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MCMC narrowly averts crisis care standard

ICU nurses quit MCMC for better money

by Sharon Niederman
RATON — In her report to the miners Colfax Medical Center board of trustees on Sept. 24, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Loretta Conder said that on Sept. 9, the hospital was prepared to go to crisis standard of care. However, that situation was averted and contingency care was maintained due to shifting of staff, space, and equipment.  Patients with COVID-related pneumonia were moved to the med-surge floor (with a plastic barrier serving as separation from other patients) and ICU care was temporarily suspended. With eight COVID patients, the facility was full. “It has become hard to transfer patients,” she said, “because hospitals are full.”

However, if patients need intubation or ventilator care, they must be transferred as MCMC does not have staff for this treatment level. The hospital has been treating patients with monoclonal antibodies that can keep those with milder cases out of the hospital.  Sixty-one doses have been administered thus far. A temporary shortage of this medication was overcome.

During August 2021, 10 COVID patients were hosptalized; so far at MCMC, in September, 17 have been admitted and treated. With five patients currently in the COVID unit, room is available; however, “the challenge is staffing,” Conder reported.

“COVID has changed nursing,” she said. MCMC lost two ICU nurses; the Department of Health sent two nurses to help.  A nurse can resign from MCMC, sign on as a traveler with an agency and make two to three times more money. “This situation contributes to the ICU nursing shortage,” she said. Salaries for nurses are quickly going from $120 an hour toward $200 per hour.

Meanwhile, hospital administration is trying to get higher wages for staff. However, wages and benefits in the FY 23 budget are seeing a flat increase of eight percent.

CFO Lonnie Medina reported the budget will break even at $42 million, the amount requested from the Legislative Finance Committee.  MCMC will present the budget to the state legislature in Oct.

The implementation of the contract to upgrade to electronic medical records will cost $600,000.  Equipment will be installed and staff will be trained possibly on a weekly basis starting in February 2022 in a ten-month process he termed “a monster.”

Surveys serve as quality scorecard

Rae Hager, Manager of Quality and Clinical Education, presented a quality report that detailed response to surveys on patient satisfaction.  With a focus on the rural health clinic, she analyzed 90 returns to drill down into areas to “prioritize and work on.”  High priorities to customers were privacy, sufficient time with practitioner, and wait time.  In-patients requested more communication with doctors and nurses regarding medication and more education at discharge.  Sepsis management called for improvement, particularly in getting antibiotics started more quickly.  As a “quality score card,” the surveys indicated MCMC was doing “fairly well.”

Possible breakthrough in salary logjam

Human Resources director Barbara Duran continued the discussion on compensation and inability to be competitive with agencies due to state personnel regulation of staff salaries. Although this is a longstanding statewide problem, it appears the DFA approved the forward movement of a health care study that could ultimately result in higher wages.  The study did not include all employees.  MCMC will analyze the impact on 74 clinical employees and nurses’ aids and present results one month from now, with a 30 percent salary increase possible.  Medina said this would result in an almost $5 million budget increase.