Bed shortage plagues hospital

A lack of beds and staff earlier this month forced Medical College of Georgia Hospitals and Clinics to cancel surgeries one day and has kept the hospital from accepting any transfer patients to its intensive care unit so far this week.

While officials promised Wednesday to open up beds and add staffing to meet the need as an immediate response, the chief nursing officer thinks it may be part of a trend caused by aging baby boomers.

At an executive committee meeting of the board of MCG Health Inc., which runs the hospitals and clinics, administrators also complained of deep and sustained cuts in federal and state supplemental payments.

"We will have a $14 million cut," said CEO Don Snell, from about $26 million to $12 million in payments designed to help make up for the cost of teaching and for treating large volumes of indigent and Medicaid patients.

The cuts are deep enough to wipe out any expected gains from a more robust volume, he said.

Beginning around mid-February, the hospital saw a leap in volume from its average daily census of 300 to 320 to more than 400 on some days, forcing the hospital to turn away some patients at least 10 times, said Sandra McVicker, senior vice president for patient care services and chief nursing officer.

"I'm not able to accept that patient because I don't have beds and staff, I don't have the staff to take care of one more person in a bed," she said. Because there were not enough beds to take them, 12 elective surgeries were canceled March 13.

For the year to date, the hospital is about $862,000 below budget on wages and salaries.

"In other words, we're staffed very tightly," said Chief Financial Officer Dennis R. Roemer.

"There's no room to go there," said MCG President Daniel W. Rahn, a member of MCG Health's board. "That's the main thing that I think we're all wrestling with. I think we're already as efficient as we can get."

The hospital will add 12 medical/surgical beds, eight ICU beds and a 20-bed unit for admission, discharges or transfers to help free up beds.

Though Mr. Snell referred to them as temporary measures, Mrs. McVicker thinks it is a long-term trend fed by aging baby boomers. One of the bigger categories of patients feeding the increase are those ages 55 to 65, she said.

"We're starting to see the tip of that iceberg here," Mrs. McVicker said.

University Hospital experienced shortages of intensive care and monitored beds earlier this month, and officials there think they may have the same culprit.

"It wasn't really related to any kind of flu or virus outbreak, it was more related to the complications of the aging population," spokeswoman Rebecca Sylvester said.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.