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Grand River Health limits availability of patient beds

Construction crews work on the Grand RIver Health expansion in south Rifle in 2019.
Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram file

Grand River Health officials said a cap on the number of patient beds it offers was issued in an effort to free up time for its staffers to fully acclimate to its new patient wing expansion.

The Rifle hospital has a total of 25 patient beds following completion of a major expansion earlier this summer. The cap, however, has limited patient use to 15 beds.

“From a patient-safety standpoint, you don’t go from 10 patients a day to 25,” Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kevin Coleman said. “We need to make sure that our nurses and staff are familiar with the area and the way things work with the new space.”



The new, 100,000-square-foot addition expansion, which officially opened its doors in July, was made possible by an $89.4 million bond issue. Hospital district voters voted on the bond in November 2017.

The bond not only helped pay for the addition, it expanded the hospital’s bay capacity from 12 to 25.

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“We’ll expand it in the next couple months as we reevaluate and make sure that our patients are safe and everybody knows what their work environment looks like,” Coleman said.

But while part of the hospital awaits staff to familiarize themselves with the expansion, another new Grand River Health asset is simply in need of more staff.

Sections of the new Grand River Health Care Center, a 103,000-square-foot long-term care facility that replaced the old E. Dene Moore facility, are unoccupied.

The new facility, which also materialized through the passage of 2017’s $89.4 million bond issue, has about five “neighborhoods” that can house 87 private rooms.

The center opened its doors in January, and neighborhoods were scheduled to open in phases throughout the year.

So far, just two neighborhoods are fully occupied, as staffing issues have persisted, Coleman said.

“We attempted to staff a third neighborhood but with a health care worker shortage, we had to back off,” he said. “We’re faced with a health care worker shortage, just like every other hospital in America is.”

Staffing issues come amid a time when some Grand River nurses are voicing opposition to a statewide mandate requiring them to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 31.

About 82% of Grand River staffers are vaccinated, Coleman said.

Coleman said Grand River is trying to implement creative ways to attain and retain staff, but the hiring pool is limited.

“There’s nobody to be hired,” he said. (Travel nurses) are going for an exorbitant amount of money, but they’re also needed across the country.”

Grand River Health Community Relations Director Annick Pruett said hospital officials are trying to incentive new hires to the care center with monetary awards for two-year commitments.

“It’s certainly very frustrating, and, yes, we are filling those positions as quickly as we can,” she said. “It also doesn’t help with the high cost of living here.”

Registered nurse and quality assurance analyst Jane Vincent said employees are aware of the nationwide staffing issues.

“At any given time, we might be asked to learn a new task and add something to our daily job list,” she said. “I think staff are prepared for that.”

Grand River Chief of Staff Dr. Matthew Skwiot said conditions at the hospital are already tough due to current staffing needs. With hospital officials expecting a winter surge of new COVID-19 cases, they need all the help they can get.

“Losing one or two people is going to make a big difference,” he said. “It’d be great if we can manage this so nobody leaves.”

One effort to retain employees skeptical of COVID-19 includes physicians having one-on-one meetings with staffers.

“We’re just trying to do what we can to make sure people are educated as best as possible to make their decisions before they choose to (resign),” Skwiot said. “If we get a surge this fall — there’s a pretty decent chance that we will — people have already been doing this for a year and a half, they’re already worn out.

“Losing anybody’s going to make a difference.”

In addition to having one-on-ones, Coleman said Grand River entered into an agreement with Intermountain Healthcare. The Utah-based, nonprofit organization employs intensive care nurses and doctors who can provide teleconferences and telehealth services to critical patients at Grand River.

“This will have an extra set of eyes on our patients come winter,” Coleman said. “We feel like that’s a good service to add to help our hospitals out with more critical patients if we’re unable to transfer them.”

Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or rerku@postindependent.com.


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