MUSKEGON — Temporarily closing a surgical floor at Trinity Health Muskegon reflects the ongoing staffing crunch many hospitals are facing today.
Trinity Health intends to begin closing the eighth floor at its Sherman Boulevard hospital campus Friday because of staffing challenges. The 30-bed unit is used for post-operative patient recovery.
The move enables the 331-bed hospital to maintain safe nurse-to-patient ratios as staff and patients move to two other medical-surgical floors, said Linda Dunmore, chief nursing officer at Trinity Health Muskegon.
“We are like many other health systems and we definitely are experiencing workforce challenges,” Dunmore said. “So, in order to support our staff, particularly our night shift … we decided to close the unit until we can continue to work on our recruitment efforts and stabilize the staffing and the pipeline of opportunities for colleagues coming in.”
As well, the Muskegon hospital has made use of surgical capacity at sister facilities in Grand Haven, where Trinity Health acquired the North Ottawa Community Hospital last fall, and Shelby. Trinity Health Muskegon also has been referring “appropriate patients” to both locations “every single week,” said Chief Medical Officer Justin Grill.
Trinity Health Muskegon has not had to delay or cancel any surgical procedures, and “we don’t plan on that,” Dunmore said.
“I want our patients and our community to know that they can still come here for care, they can have surgery and we’re going to navigate through the challenges, just as we have been working with our staff,” she said. “This is a temporary thing and together our team is prepared to do what we need to do to care for our patients in the community.”
Temporarily closing the surgical floor to support staffing levels “supports quality and safe patient care,” Grill said.
“So, not only can they access care, but the safety is going to be as good, if not better, than what we had before,” he said. “The goal is to support optimal care of patients and our staff.”
Health care providers for years have been coping with an acute staffing shortage that worsened in the pandemic, driving some workers — especially nurses — to retire early, go to work for higher-paying travel nursing agencies, transition to a different care setting or leave the profession altogether.
The Michigan Health & Hospital Association has estimated that the nursing shortage has resulted in hospitals staffing 1,700 fewer beds today than in 2020, plus longer ER wait times and greater difficulty transferring patients between care providers.
Trinity Health Muskegon is actively recruiting nurses, Dunmore said. She was unsure how long the surgical unit will have to stay closed after winding down in the next week as patients are discharged.
The unit’s reopening is “to be determined,” she said.
“We’re going to be monitoring staffing levels and we have several other metrics that we’ll be putting together and monitoring and just keeping a close pulse on that, and then watch our recruitment as well until some of those positions are filled,” Dunmore said. “Health care workers are at a premium these days.”
The Michigan Nurses Association this month cited data that show only two-thirds of the 154,000 registered nurses in Michigan who hold a license are employed. To improve the staffing shortage, the nursing union advocates for a state law that limits how many patients a hospital can assign a nurse.
Survey data by the union show that “nurses will continue to leave the profession until reasonable limits to the number of patients a nurse is assigned are in place,” Jamie Brown, a critical care nurse and president of the Michigan Nurses Association, said in a recent announcement.
In the survey, seven out of 10 RNs told the MNA that they believe they are assigned unsafe patient volumes on at least half of their shifts, and 90 percent said having too many cases per nurse affects care.
“The staffing crisis will never be adequately addressed until working conditions at hospitals are improved. Making nurses take care of too many patients is irresponsible and will lead to nurses continuing to leave the bedside,” Brown said.