(Riverton, Wyo.) – It was a perfect storm Tuesday of staff illness at three Central Wyoming hospitals that resulted in all three restricting admissions.
The day began with the Wyoming Medical Center in Casper notifying other health care facilities in the state that they were on a “divert” status, in that they were not accepting patients from other hospitals.
Lander Regional Hospital had one bed available, but it was being held for an incoming heart patient, and Riverton Memorial only had enough staff on hand for 12 beds.
Hospital officials were scrambling on Tuesday afternoon to find open beds for patients who showed up at the emergency rooms. Emergency cases were handled, but general illness cases were impacted.
“It was so busy at our emergency room in Lander that we kept one patient in the ER for five hours before a bed opened up,” said Steve Erixon, the CEO of both the Lander and Riverton hosptials. “When we run out of staff, we run out beds, and depending on what staff calls-off (calls in sick), we should’ve been able to take patients.”
Erixon said the number of beds that a hospital is licensed for is rarely the amount of beds available.
“In Riverton, for instance, there are not enough patients here to fill our 70 licensed beds. You won’t find any hospital, in fact, with staffing close to their licensed count.”
At Lander Regional, Erixon said they know that they will run 30 to 40 patients per day, so
staffing is for what you think you’ll have.” In Riverton, that daily average is somewhere between 12 and 20 patients a day, he said, without having the exact number at hand.
Erixon only recently assumed the CEO’s position at RMH, following the resignation of Chris Smolik.
“Occasionally, we’ll staff for 30 patients (at Lander) and get a lot of call-offs and find we don’t have enough staff. Just like everyone else (employers) whose staff gets sick, we get hit the same way,” he said. “And there is a lot of crud going around out there right now, mostly respiratory.”
Erixon said he knew that Tuesday was a tight day.
“We don’t ever like to turn away patients for a couple of reasons. First, we don’t want to transport someone somewhere else (unless it’s an emergency), second we want to be able to take care of our neighbors at home and thirdly, we’re here to run a hospital and fill beds,” he said. “But it’s not doing anybody any good if we don’t have the staff.”
He said daily census numbers can fluctuate enough to make it hard to predict what staff is needed on any one day.
Erixon said the local hospitals face this situation during the first quarter of the year, typically that time when kids are getting sick with respiratory issues and the flu hits. “January, February, March and even April we are generally busier than other times of the year, “ he said.