Minnesota hospital leaders express concern over hospital staffing, surging COVID-19 cases

[anvplayer video=”4982404″ station=”998122″]

Nearly 200 chief medical officers and nursing leaders from across Minnesota put out a joint letter Thursday expressing "growing concern" about the increasing demand for hospital care as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

The letter reads, in part: "The high level of community transmission means that our health care heroes – including nurses, doctors, therapists, pharmacists, support services, housekeeping, technicians, advanced practice providers and many more – are contracting COVID-19 as they go about their daily lives in our communities. Reducing and preventing community spread is critical to helping keep our health care heroes healthy and able to care for patients … Minnesotans must do all we can now to reduce the community spread of COVID-19. As we did at the beginning of this pandemic, we each need to do our part and protect our health care heroes, our family members and our communities."

Since the start of the pandemic, 16,856 health care workers in Minnesota have contracted COVID-19, according to Minnesota Department of Health data.

KSTP’s complete COVID-19 coverage

"We are extremely concerned about our front-line health care heroes and how they’re getting exposed in our communities across the state," said Dr. Rahul Koranne, president and CEO of the Minnesota Hospital Association. "It’s a direct result of the explosive community spread that we’re seeing."

Koranne said staffing levels at hospitals are becoming strained because many health care workers are either getting sick or having to quarantine for 14 days after exposure.

There are already capacity concerns due to an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations. This week, the state reported ICUs in the metro were at 97% capacity.

"Even when we have the beds, the physical spaces in our hospitals, our main concern and our urgent concern right now is the availability to staff those beds so we can continue to care for Minnesotans in our hospitals," Koranne said.

MDH: Record-breaking 7,228 new COVID-19 cases reported in Minnesota, surpassing 200K total cases

Koranne said this is a different situation from earlier in the pandemic, when doctors and nurses from other states would come in to help hospitals dealing with surges. Now, many other states are seeing increased hospitalizations as well, so outside resources are limited.

Many Minnesota hospitals are considering backup plans for staffing, including shifting care teams internally from other departments, creating a pool of traveling nurses to fill temporary shortages and asking state leaders to make child care available for health care workers so they would still be able to go to work if districts shift to distance learning.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reached out to multiple hospital systems for comment on this issue. You can see the replies below.

M Health Fairview:

"Nurses and doctors and respiratory therapists and all our courageous health care workers are also our community members. Increased rates of community transmission impact our staff’s ability to come to work and to care for patients. The single most impactful thing we can all do to make sure we have our full staffing compliment that maximizes our capacity to care for COVID patients is to maintain social distancing, avoid gatherings, wear masks, and exercise vigilant hand hygiene. Leaders from health systems across the state, including M Health Fairview, have signed a joint letter urging the public to help our front-line health care staff by taking public health precautions.

"Our capacity is being strained, but we are constantly communicating and collaborating with other health systems and our community partners to ensure we are able to provide care to Minnesotans. We continue to work with MDH and other health systems in our region to closely monitor hospital and ICU capacity. This includes staffing, PPE supply and hospital space to ensure best possible levels of care and protection for our patients and staff. We have hired traveling nurses to fill gaps in staffing due to illness, and have improved turnaround time on COVID tests so healthy caregivers can get back to work faster.

"We have also started limiting elective procedures that would require hospitalization to better align with the availability of our care teams. We monitor and reassess this multiple times per day, case by case, site by site and day by day with patient and staff safety top of mind."

Allina Health:

"As a result of COVID-19, staffing constraints throughout Minnesota are currently at levels that are very concerning and Allina Health is doing everything possible to meet the urgent health care needs of the community. The increase in community spread and its effect on our health care providers is an ongoing concern and we are looking at every option, including contracting with traveling nurses and other staffing resources. We are also utilizing our in-house programs, such as our Recover Closer to Home program and our Home Hospital Care program to help us manage our staffing and hospital volumes. The public has a critically important role in protecting health care workers by helping to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by following public health measures."


"Caring for our patients and communities with healthy colleagues is our top priority right now. With such high community spread, we know that staffing shortages will continue to be a reality, and we’re looking at a number of ways to keep our teams at full force – including hiring both permanent and temporary staff and working with colleagues across the organization to fill in where we need extra help. Data has shown that most exposures are happening outside of the healthcare setting, so we’re asking for the help of our community to mask up, social distance and reduce potential exposure situations. This is something we all have stake in."