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'It's a crisis': MN Hospital Association desperate for help amid staffing shortages, seasonal outbreaks

Close up of gloved hands on the side of a hospital bed.
A nurse at a Mayo Clinic medical ICU at St. Mary's Hospital rests their hand on the edge of a patient's bed in Rochester, Minn. According to recent information from the state health department, hospital beds — especially for kids — are in short supply.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2020

Just in time for the holidays, more Minnesotans are getting sick with respiratory illnesses like COVID and RSV. According to recent information from the state health department, hospital beds — especially for kids — are in short supply.

A recent study by APM Research Lab found there are almost 1,000 fewer Minnesota hospital beds in 2023 than in 2020. Dr. Rahul Koranne, president of the Minnesota Hospital Association, says the problem isn’t a shortage of beds themselves.

“We have the beds, we have the walls, we have the physical infrastructure, but a bed doesn't treat the patient,” Koranne said.

Staffing shortages are still a major problem. According to Koranne, some Minnesota hospitals have an up to 17 percent job vacancy rate, and applicants and retention numbers are also down. At the same time, lower capacity in group homes, mental health institutions and nursing homes means hundreds of hospital patients needing such care have nowhere to be discharged.

“And in some cases, patients are stuck and boarding and living in a hospital for months on end, which prevents other patients from getting into the hospital,” Koranne said. “It's a crisis.”

Emergency rooms are facing a similar problem, backing up a system that’s hemorrhaging money, he said. There is growing fear that an overloaded health system means Minnesotans won’t get help if they show up to the hospital.

“I'll be frank: patient care in Minnesota is in danger,” Koranne said.

Koranne told MPR News the most immediate solution would be help from lawmakers as soon as the legislature reconvenes in February. He wants them to put a rescue package at the top of the docket.

“Given the almost $1 billion that we have lost already this year in 2023, we need state lawmakers to prioritize hospitals and healthcare systems across the state, provide a rescue package so that we have the money that we need to continue to provide access, to continue to look for workers, to continue to make health care a lucrative industry for our youngsters to join,” Koranne said. “That's what we need so that we can provide access not just today, but for generations to come for Minnesotans.”

Koranne encouraged Minnesotans to stay current on their vaccinations, wash their hands, avoid contact with sick people and cover coughs. Also, he said to wear your seat belt and don’t get behind the wheel while distracted or impaired.

“The other main point is, please seek the right care at the right time. Please go to your regular provider instead of going to the local emergency department. Please take the COVID test, get the vaccinations and the state department of health has amazing resources on its website. Check them out.”

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