Aug. 6, 2002 A shortage of registered nurses at Juan F. Luis Hospital has forced the closure of one of its acute care wards, known within the hospital as "Medical Two."
"The time has come," hospital chief executive officer Thomas D. Robinson said in a press release. "The census is low, and so it is now time to consolidate our limited staffing." He was referring to the numbers of patients in wards.
Robinson said that, while the closing is viewed as temporary, the ward won't reopen until staff and the funds to pay them become available.
"Our patients' care is our top priority," Darice Plaskett, the hospital's vice president for nursins, said. "It is essential that we maintain proper, good patient care and meet staffing-to-patient ratio standards as set forth by JCAHO and CMS." She was referring to the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Hospital spokeswoman Carole Lee said the staff was "serving yeoman dimensions" and working with little in the way of supplies or help.
She said that the ward population was low enough to close the 21-bed unit on Monday. She did not know how many patients were in the ward, but said those who were ready to go home were discharged. The remaining seven were elderly and chronically ill patients with nowhere to go. They were transferred to the hospital's extended care unit.
The nurses who had been on duty in Medical Two have been reassigned to other medical and surgical units and the extended care unit. Lee declined to specify how many nurses this involved. She also said she did not know the total number of staff at the hospital nor the number of nurses on the staff.
The hospital still provides acute care in the remaining medical and the surgical units, Lee said. She said acute care requires the services of registered nurses.
The closure should come as no surprise. Robinson said he announced in October 2001 that the nursing shortage then would force the 183-bed hospital to close some acute-care beds.
When Robinson made his plea for more funding at a July 30 Senate Finance Committee Fiscal Year 2003 budget hearing, he said that he had 73 nurses on his wish list of 134 new staff members. However, he said that if 25 of the appropriate people were to show up willing to work, he couldn't hire them, because the hospital can't afford them.
He said Luis Hospital needs $20 million more than the $20.8 million requested by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull in his proposed 2003 budget.
The hospital's chief financial officer, Nellon Bowry, warned at the Finance Committee hearing that an "operational crisis is just around the corner."
This hospital is not alone in its need for registered nurses. The crisis is nationwide, but Luis Hospital is in a particularly sticky predicament because it is chronically short of funds. While the government pays for salaries, its revenues fund the rest of its operations.
Robinson said in his press release that revenues are down.
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