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Grand River Health staffing issues keeping parts of new Care Center closed

The Grand River Health building in Rifle.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Grand River Health likely won’t open parts of the new long-term Care Center in Rifle, including the highly specialized memory care unit, until sometime next year.

“We are eager to meet that community need,” said Kenda Spaulding, Chief Experience Officer for Grand River Health.

However, operation of the memory care unit requires a separate level of licensing from the rest of the facility. That includes different staffing levels and staff training requirements and a higher level of inspections, she said.



“We did anticipate that this would be something we would not be able to meet immediately,” Spaulding said.

Compounded by the impact of COVID-19 and staffing levels both at the Care Center and Grand River Hospital, that timeline remains uncertain, she said.



Spaulding cites a “quality benchmark” of one nurse and two certified nursing assistants (CNAs) for each of the facility’s “neighborhoods.”

The new Care Center opened in early 2021 with four such neighborhoods. Three general nursing and rehabilitation care neighborhoods have 18 beds each, and the memory care unit has 15 beds.

Two of those neighborhoods are fully staffed and open now, and the third general care neighborhood is awaiting full staffing, Spaulding said.

“We do hope to open the third neighborhood at least partially, if not fully, the first part of the year (2022),” she said. “The memory unit could take longer.”

Due to the uncertain timeline, there is not an active wait list for the memory care unit at this time, she said. Once the unit is able to take admissions, new admissions are likely to be given priority over transfers from other facilities, she said.

Staffing woes

All around, including the long-term care center, hospital and clinical services are dealing with ongoing staffing shortages — a combination of the impacts of the pandemic and a labor shortage that was already an issue. That’s also due in part to the high cost of living in the region.

“Health care is one of the top three industries for workforce migration,” noted Grand River Health Administrative and Community Relations Director Annick Pruett.

A statewide employee COVID-19 vaccine requirement for hospitals, nursing homes and other state-licensed health care facilities resulted in about 30 employees leaving Grand River, Pruett said.

A grace period for employees to receive the vaccine is coming to a close, and that number could grow to about 40, she said.

Some of those departures have been at the long-term care center, she said.

“We did have some employees reconsider who were hesitant, got the vaccine and returned to work,” Spaulding said. Others are seeking either a medical or religious exemption, she said.

As of last week, Grand River Health had granted 18 medical exemptions and one religious exemption, Pruett said.

The new Care Center and a major expansion at the hospital, part of which remains closed, resulted in about 200 new jobs being added for Grand River Health. That increased the special hospital district’s workforce from about 625 to more than 800.

Currently, though, there are about 150 vacancies. Normally, the district has a vacancy rate of about 60-70, Spaulding said.

“So that is higher than we would like to see, for sure,” she said. “But we have seen a bump in interest for a variety of positions.”

Current vacancies cross the spectrum, from frontline health care workers to certified professionals and support staff, Spaulding said.

“We don’t have any posted positions for physicians at this time, which is good,” she said.

The biggest impact has been an ability to hire and retain CNAs, a profession that saw about a 30% exodus during the pandemic across the country, Spaulding said.

“Jobs that pay $16 and hour and under are also among our greatest number of vacancies,” she said. “We are trying to make this a place where people want to stay and work, and it’s definitely time to think outside the box a little bit on that.”

At the same time, all pre-existing services at the hospital are open, including the inpatient unit, Pruett said. The hospital remains capped at 16 beds, due to staffing levels, she said.

“I will say that our staff has been absolutely amazing in filling in where absolutely needed,” she said. “I’ve been just really in awe of our staff, and their willingness to jump in wherever they’re needed.”

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.


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