MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Top hospital and long-term care industry leaders say that workers are exhausted and leaving the profession at record-levels, creating a staffing shortage of caregivers as cases increase and hospital beds fill up.

Nearly 900 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, a record high for this year, according to the state’s health department data. Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm described the number of hospitalizations as a “capacity crisis” for both adult and children.

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“Across the state, we have more hospitals reporting that they have zero available adult medical/surgical beds and zero adult ICU bed available during this latest surge,” she said. “This are numbers we didn’t see even in the worst of last year’s fall surge.”

There are 13 pediatric beds available right now across the state, though there are fewer of them overall compared to the capacity for adults. In the Twin Cities, just 1% of adult beds are available. The central region of the state has just 7%, and in the southeast region it’s 5%, Malcolm said.

At both North Memorial Health hospitals, Robbinsdale and Maple Grove, all beds are completely occupied, said Dr. Kevin Croston, the health care system’s CEO. In its ICUs, 100% of COVID-19 patients in ICUs are unvaccinated; for COVID patients in medical/surgical units, that number is 75%.

The influx of patients seeking care comes at a time when staffing is at critical levels, hospital officials told reporters Thursday.

“The reality is staff are exhausted and they’re working harder than they ever have,” Croston said.

(credit: CBS)

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Malcolm said overall there are fewer health care workers on the job than there were last year due to “extreme stress” of the pandemic. Dr. Marc Gorelick, CEO of Children’s Minnesota, said health care systems across Minnesota are struggling with a worker deficit in “virtually every discipline.”

“This is putting a significant strain on our system,” Gorelick said.

Thousands of open jobs in long-term care settings

Nursing homes share similar staffing woes. The number of employees at long-term care facilities all across the state is declining sharply.

Patti Cullen, CEO of Care Providers of Minnesota, said people are leaving faster than they can recruit more staff. There were 2,000 more resignations than there were new hires in August and 23,000 caregiving positions are currently unfilled, which represents nearly three times more vacancies than the spring.

“This access is now being threatened because of this unprecedented workforce shortage,” Cullen said. “It’s impacting every part of the state.”

Erin Hilligan, vice president of operations at Ebenezer, described the scarcity of workers as the worst she has seen in her 27-year career. She said 70% of nursing homes are limiting admissions due to lack of staff to care for additional residents.

Gov. Tim Walz recently wrote a letter to the legislature asking that it pass a number of waivers and relief in response to the current pandemic situation during a special session that faces an uncertain future. Long-term care industry leaders on Thursday pleaded for lawmakers to approve an increase in wages to bolster recruitment and retention, and to relax regulations to hire people more quickly.

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They also suggested using American Rescue Plan COVID-19 relief funds for “strike teams” to fill emergency staffing needs.

Caroline Cummings