By J.D. Pitt
On Monday, Oct. 18, Idaho Governor Brad Little visited St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center, where he found a hospital fairly well staffed. Except that, according to hospital personnel, the staff he observed included off-duty personnel who were given incentive pay to be on site, and also FEMA personnel.
The staffing shortage is no secret. The St Luke’s website states, “Idaho Department of Health and Welfare has activated crisis standards of care statewide” and patients “may experience delays in ERs, hospitals and clinics.” The shortage has been blamed on the spike in covid cases and higher than normal hospitalization rates, but one St. Luke’s employee emailed True Idaho News, saying, “We have plenty of beds, but we don’t’ have enough staff.”
Another St Luke’s employee, a doctor whom I will refer to as “J.N.”, told True Idaho News that he “heard nurses talking about every employee on a floor being called in extra on incentive. We have no staff. Everyone is working extra shifts despite also having FEMA staffing and travelers just to cover shifts.”
Vaccine mandates are impacting staff numbers
Neonatal intensive care nurse Kelly Rule was told by St. Luke’s that she needed to be “vaccinated” or be terminated. Choosing to not receive the injection, Rule worked up to the deadline, and then on Sept. 16 she handed over her St. Luke’s badge to Human Resources and her St. Luke’s email was turned off.
In a strange turn of events, after she was terminated and after the state’s “crisis standards” were activated, Rule received text messages from St. Luke’s saying she was being written up for a “no call – no show,” and they wanted to know why she had missed her shift and had not responded to the emails telling her to come in to work.
On her Facebook page, Rule wrote, “You knew you’d lose a ton of staff. Yet you remained arrogant and claimed all was well. You didn’t need me. Well I DON’T need you. I WON’T let you jerk me around and I WON’T bail you out. You made your bed, now lay in it.”
No national statistics exist yet for “vaccine hesitancy” in the first responder community, but the L.A. Times reports that “up to 50% of healthcare workers in some regions are declining to be vaccinated.” Additionally, broad documentation is now appearing where municipal agencies are kicking back against the mandates. Chicago is showing nearly a third of their Police officers are declining the vaccine as the mandate deadline looms, and similar data exists for Los Angeles firefighters.
Despite what the major media tells us, vaccine mandates assuredly have bearing on St Luke’s staffing situation. Daniel Merkes, a former employee of St Luke’s Meridian, had much to say on the issue. “It was never beds, always staff.” the 25-year veteran ER nurse said. Merkes worked for St. Luke’s for 17 years. His departure was driven by many factors within the organization, but the final straw was the vaccine requirement. “I would have stayed if not for the mandate,” Merkes said.
In an Oct 18 text to True Idaho News, the doctor known as “J.N.” said, “Increased patient volumes require extra staffing. But 100% a significant number of people left b/c of the mandates. It’s a lie to state otherwise.”
Other factors contributing to Merkes’ departure include poor leadership policies. He said that staffing shortfalls resulted in up to 72 hours of extra shifts per nurse every two weeks, coupled with a lack of hazard pay, tax breaks, or anything financially tangible throughout the Covid-19 outbreak. Merkes said St. Luke’s received more than $100 Million dollars in Covid aid, yet none of that was seen at the floor level, such as additional staffing or better schedule management. “We were essentially on duty 24/7,” Merkes said.
Merkes also discussed how carloads of potentially infected persons would approach the testing station, each with several sick people. The procedure was not to test every individual, but to ask who felt the worst, test that one individual, and if the test was positive, assume the rest of the people in the car were infected as well. “Not an unreasonable assumption, but not an honest assessment by any standard.”
Merkes spoke of nurses from different specialties being forced to work outside their specialty, which added significantly to employee stress. Merkes said more than 20 health care workers he knows personally left during the pandemic. “The staffing shortage has been ongoing since I started in 2004, and the pandemic has only made it worse.”
A lack of concern for staff members’ psychological health has compounded the problem. One employee, Kerri Massoth, an ER nurse at St Luke’s Meridian, resorted to suicide in June of 2021.
In the text to True Idaho News on Oct 18, The doctor known as “J.N.” said, “One CNA was crying at the nurses station last week b/c patients weren’t getting basic cares like bathing and walking.“
Some nurses have left to work at other hospitals, such as Treasure Valley Medical Center. Merkes says they tell him they have better treatment there, better pay and better overall satisfaction. But he also says that some healthcare workers are simply leaving the medical field altogether.
Merkes says even some vaccinated staff have left St. Luke’s in solidarity with others who refuse to be vaccinated. This is a strong sanction on St Luke’s as an organization, but perhaps not enough to check the huge corporation that is more than happy to hire minimally experienced nurses or fresh nursing school graduates to replace nurses with decades of experience who are walking out the doors every day.
This writer reached out to St. Luke’s for comment on this story, but they did not respond.
Governor Little’s visit to St Luke’s may not have had anything to do with their loss of staff or their deteriorating conditions, and it may or may not have been a publicity stunt to bolster support for a hospital system that is rapidly losing its once stellar reputation. But one thing is sure. Despite St. Luke’s blaming Covid or “a surge” for their lack of staff, information leaking out shows that St. Luke’s is hemorrhaging experienced staff in large part because of their own internal policies.
True Idaho New publishes news you can trust. Enjoying the content? We’d love to expand. Please consider being a financial partner with True Idaho News.