OCH nurses working overtime to handle COVID-19, return of other patients


Michelle Welander

Michelle Welander



Tess Vrbin



Michelle Welander thought $20 per hour would be enough of an incentive.


The chief nursing officer at OCH Regional Medical Center offered "crisis pay" to try to fill shifts, and some nurses accepted it. But others turned it down, she told the hospital board of trustees at its monthly meeting Tuesday.


"We're already scheduling them 84 hours in a two-week period, so this is above and beyond that, and they just want some time with their families (because) they're tired right now," Welander said.



OCH has eight to 12 positive cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus in the building at any given time, CEO Jim Jackson said. As of Tuesday it had 10 cases, five of which were in the intensive care unit.


The ICU had 12 beds at one point and has nine at the moment, but the hospital's budget is only equipped for four patients and six beds, Welander said.


"You can only push the system so long, and we're just at that breaking point right now and trying to get back down to what we are as an organization, which is a six-bed ICU," she told The Dispatch.


OCH currently has the space to treat more patients than it usually does, since the third floor was temporarily a COVID-19 treatment unit, and the hospital has still "adequately" met the challenges and demands of the time, Jackson said.


The ability to meet those demands earlier in the pandemic came from nurses who usually work in operating rooms, ambulances and "business-type positions," said Welander, who helped critical care and emergency room nurses treat COVID-19 patients.


Now that non-COVID-19 patient volume is returning to past levels, Jackson said the hospital is redelegating staff away from COVID-19 assistance. This requires nurses to work "a significant amount of overtime" to pick up the slack, Welander said.


One standard practice that has resumed is elective surgeries, which OCH put on hold in March and started to revive in late May. The delay cost the hospital about $2.1 million in revenue, Chief Financial Officer Susan Russell said.


The hospital furloughed some employees in mid-April and started bringing them back in phases earlier this month. Jackson said between 80 and 90 percent of furloughed employees have been restored to their previous work status and schedule, and everyone should be back to work by the end of July.


"The path we've been on has been getting back to a normal mode of operations, but we've been doing that in addition to seeing increased numbers of positive COVID patients," Jackson told the board. "As long as we don't see huge spikes in that, I think we're well-positioned to sustain that level of care."


The Mississippi State Department of Health reported 611 new confirmed cases for a total of 22,898 as of 6 p.m. Monday.


Determining a "new normal" at OCH, including how to balance caring for COVID-19 patients and other patients, will "take extraordinary management and foresight," Jackson said.


The state received $2.1 billion from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), and the Mississippi Hospital Association requested $320 million to be distributed to the state's hospitals. Jackson said he is not convinced the state will grant the request, even though the pandemic could go on for several more months.


"I'm not sure state leadership has agreed that they're going to give us the (money)," he said. "For some reason, they think we have been made whole by all the prior federal money we've received."


OCH has received about $13 million in federal COVID-19 relief and has used about $4.5 million of those funds, Jackson said. He hopes to make the remaining money last through December but said it "could run out quickly" without any additional funding.


Meanwhile, Welander is hoping that the ICU will get some relief via two recently filled nursing positions.


"They're both new graduates, so it's going to be a good three to four months before we'll even have them adequately trained," she said. "I'm struggling, but I believe Tupelo and Columbus, we're all vying for the few applicants that are out there and we're doing our best."





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