Fairbanks hospital faces persistent staff shortages, higher turnover

Fairbanks Memorial Hospital
Fairbanks Memorial Hospital in May 2011. (Creative Commons photo by RadioKAOS)

Like health care facilities across the state and nation, Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, Tanana Valley Health Clinic and the Denali Center long-term care facility are short staffed as the COVID-19 case surge continues.

“We currently, as an organization, have about 200 openings across the system,” said Nicole Welch, chief human resources officer for Foundation Health Partners, the local organization which owns and operates the Fairbanks hospital, health clinic and Denali Center.

Welch said there are twice as many unfilled positions now as there were prior to the pandemic. While the doctor and nursing staff is thin, she said, the primary shortage is in certified nursing assistants and other jobs.

“So that’s, you know, your registration, your environmental service worker, nutrition service worker, security officer,” she said.

In hopes of attracting staff as COVID-19 hospitalizations spike, Welch said the hospital has created a new temporary, part-time position.

“What we’re calling COVID relief aides,” she said. “So people who don’t have to have any experience. They can come in and take care of menus for patients and just do some of that stuff that’s sort of being overwhelmed and allow the clinicians to really focus on providing that direct patient care.”

Welch said the hospital is also trying to hire emergency medical technicians to assist in the emergency department.

“That’s a new trigger for us. We’ve not hired them in the past,” she said. “But there is a pool of those in our community. And so we do have several coming aboard right now.”

Meanwhile, Welch said bonuses and incentives are being offered to attract and retain staff as the pandemic wears on and the employee turnover rate increases.

“We would normally see around 18 to 20% turnover, we’re more at the 28% currently,” she said.

Welch said the hospital, clinic and Denali Center staffing shortage is being compounded by 15 to 20 employee absences every day due to COVID-19.

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