BOZEMAN, Mont. – Bozeman Health hospital patient numbers may be slowly declining from the hospital surges in the fall, but a system-wide nursing shortage continues to put added stresses on workers during the pandemic.

Bozeman Health Nursing System Director Kiera Pattison said they still look to fill more than 30% of their nursing positions which they have lost since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic among other hospital positions.

A big loss of the workforce came from the older and more experienced workers moving to other urgently needed frontline pandemic jobs or deciding to retire for their own safety.

Trying to fill those positions became even more difficult with the rising costs of housing and living in the Gallatin Valley pushing away potential new workers in all sorts of industries across the region including area schools' staffing.

Pattison said some of the biggest help came from travel nurses during the height of the surge in hospital patients during the fall, when around 38% of their nursing workforce was contracted staffing.

Luckily with hospital numbers down, the number right now for contracted staffing is hovering around 20% but they can’t keep all of them on because of their higher rates of pay.

Bozeman Health also has staffing shortages in support staff postions limiting hours in the hospital cafeteria for the little things like coffee and food breaks to get through the day.

Pattison said the biggest challenge has been trying to keep on more experienced workers while trying to hire for any who leave with younger, inexperienced workers.

“If the Baby Boomer generation all decide to retire that is going to be the most critical time, we have so trying to find ways to keep are most experienced nurses at the front line is going to be critical for us, finding ways that if they want to work less or want to work shorter shifts that we are accommodating to that,” Pattison said.

Last fall, Bozeman Health finalized a two-year contract with the members of the Montana Nurses Association Local #4, which represents about 400 of the more than 900 nurses of the health system by raising nursing wages by 10% in 2022 and 7% in 2023 among other contractual benefits.

The health system also finalized workforce housing plans near the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport which are set to begin this spring and the project will be completed by 2023. 

Pattison said some of the biggest morale boosts came from visible acts of community support like the "Hug the Hospital" campaign

Bozeman Health has a resiliency team and spiritual care team travel to all Bozeman Health care sites with prepackaged items like granola bars, energy drinks, snacks, fruits and treats.

Bozeman Health said they would be happy to coordinate with area businesses or people looking to find a time to drop off care packages to workers at specific departments through their Bozeman Health Foundation and are also accepting monetary donations.

You can find Bozeman Health Foundation’s contact information and COVID-19 Employee Compassion Fund here.

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