STAFFORD — The halt of both inpatient and outpatient surgery at Johnson Memorial Hospital is a symptom of a wider shortage of temporary nurses in hospitals across the country, says a state official, although hospital officials maintain the pause is temporary.
Because the suspension of surgery is temporary, the hospital does not have to apply for a certificate of need with regulatory agencies, said state Office of Health Strategy agencies Tina Kumar last week. A certificate of need is typically required by the state agency when healthcare providers make major changes to healthcare services, including termination.
“A temporary suspension in service doesn’t legally require a written notice with OHS, but it’s appreciated,” Kumar said, adding that the hospital voluntarily submitted a written notification to the state agency on June 8 informing them that the hospital would stop performing all Surgery the following day.
In this letter, Claudio Capone, regional vice president of strategic planning and business development for Trinity Health, which owns Johnson Memorial, wrote that the halt of surgical services was a result of “staffing shortages and unexpected resignations within the surgical services department.” He also added that the hospital “explored all options to maintain services, but ultimately concluded that pausing surgical services was the only decision we could make.
“We continue to recruit and train staff and will safely resume surgical services as soon as possible,” Capone also wrote.
Although the pause in providing surgery is temporary, the hospital has not announced an end date to the suspension. The operating room has been closed since June 9.
The state Healthcare Advocate Ted Doolittle attributed the closure of Johnson Memorial’s operating room to a “worldwide phenomenon” of nursing staff shortages.
“It is unfortunate, the staffing shortage is real and it’s not just even local to Connecticut,” Doolittle said Monday, adding that it is a result of many aging nurses starting to retire, and more baby boomers requiring medical care.
Doolittle also said that the shortage is felt in larger hospitals located in cities such as St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, which is also owned by Trinity Health. But clearly the problem is “most obvious in rural areas where the whole services goes down,” he said.
Because of this, Doolittle said, many that live in rural areas may be forced to travel longer distances for healthcare service for the time being.
“The unfortunate truth is that they’re going to have to go further and they’re going to have to perhaps put up with some delays … this is a tough pickle, and there’s really no easy way out,” Doolittle said, adding that he expects the shortage to continue for years.
“It is difficult, in the age when you order something from Amazon and it’s often there before sundown, to understand that the services that we all need … the economy just can’t match that,” he added.
In late 2020, the Governor’s Workforce Council estimated that the state’s registered nurse workforce was about 50,000, more than half of whom were over age 50, according to a June 12 CT Mirror article.
The Council also reported that there were “significant shortages” in healthcare workers, estimating that there was an annual need of 3,000 new registered nurses.
A shortage of nursing school instructors is also contributing to the staffing additional shortages, according to the Connecticut Center for Nursing Workforce, which found that more than 300 faculty and staff would be needed statewide to expand nursing school capacity within three years.
Ben covers Vernon and Stafford for the Journal Inquirer.