News Stories/Shortage Of Nurses Plaguing LKMC


By John Guerra


As Lower Keys Medical Center transitions to a new corporate owner, it continues to wrestle with the same problems other for-profit hospitals face. According to one hospital employee, one issue is a shortage of nursing staff for in-patient care.



“I know sometimes if a patient comes into the ER, there’s not staffing upstairs,” a hospital employee told Konk Life recently. “There are certain requirements for the number of rooms a nurse can manage. If there aren’t enough nurses on a particular floor, you can’t open up a room.”  That leaves the ER to care for patients until a room opens, the employee said.



“Sometimes you have situations where you have people spending 10-12 hours waiting for a room. It makes the ER come to a stop if you have a couple of people, three people waiting for a room. Not only can’t the rooms in ER be used for new patients coming in, but the ER nurses are kept busy by those patients.” Patients end up sitting in chairs or in beds in the side halls inside ER, the employee said.



Nicki Will, the hospital’s chief executive officer, knows about backups in the ER and has made it a mission to solve the problem. The hospital is not understaffed, she said.



“The hospital, as does any business or industry, has finite resources including patient rooms or beds, space and staff,” she told Konk Life in an email. “The hospital staffs services appropriately. There may be times, and they are very few, when the hospital is exceptionally busy or full, and patients may be held in the emergency department prior to being placed on an inpatient unit. This is not uncommon in hospitals during busy periods.”



Having enough beds is not just a function of having nurses present, Will explained.”There are many factors in placing a patient in a proper room, such as the sex of the patient and the diagnosis of the patient,” Will said. “For example, infectious medical and surgical patients are not placed with women delivering babies and newborns. Men are not admitted to the labor and delivery or postpartum units. Individuals needing only psychiatric services are admitted to the dePoo facility. Children are not placed in rooms with adult patients.”



Lower Keys Medical Center also faces problems common to other hospitals that serve a lot of indigent patients. The emergency room in the 167-bed, acute-care facility serves many patients who are chronically homeless, unemployed, under-employed, living on disability checks and/or relying on Midicare or Medicaid to cover their health care.



Though the hospital is a for-profit institution and part of a wealthy hospital corporation, it doesn’t see much of the money for which it bills in the Lower Keys. According to one hospital official, between January and October, non-paying patients racked up $44.2 million in unpaid bills the hospital probably will never collect. Nevertheless, Will and physicians on the Lower Keys Medical Center Hospital Advisory Board meet monthly to discuss ways to improve the hospital.



“They continue to struggle with outpatient check in and the board had a lengthy discussion about issues that people have had,” read the minutes of a recent board meeting provided by a board member.



Also noted in the minutes: “LKMC is the second or third highest, per-capita in Florida for no pay and Medicaid

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