‘Critical staffing shortage’ from pandemic forcing new guidance for Mass. hospitals

Moves are meant to preserve hospital capacity and healthcare workforce

BOSTON — Concerns about a “critical staffing shortage” in hospitals across Massachusetts as we head into the holidays are leading to new changes.

The Baker administration says that effective Monday, November 29 hospitals must reduce certain non-essential, elective services and procedures due to a new COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Order.

The move is meant to “ensure adequate hospital capacity for immediate healthcare needs.”

“The current strain on hospital capacity is due to longer than average hospital stays and significant workforce shortages, separate and apart from the challenges brought on by COVID,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders. “COVID hospitalizations in Massachusetts remain lower than almost every other state in the nation, but the challenges the healthcare system face remain, and this order will ensure hospitals can serve all residents, including those who require treatment for COVID-19.”

The state says this new guidance is based on several contributing factors:

-A critical staffing shortage across the healthcare system, largely due to staff shortages stemming from the pandemic.

-The loss of approximately 500 medical/surgical and ICU hospital beds.

There is also concern about increases in hospitalization commonly seen during the period after Thanksgiving and through January, according to the Baker administration.

“Our healthcare system and state leaders have done heroic work to mitigate this public health crisis over the past 20 months. But we are now seeing significant strain on hospital capacity due largely to workforce shortages and an influx of non-COVID-19 patients who deferred care and now need complex medical care,” said Steve Walsh, President and CEO of the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association.

“While we recognize that delaying some prescheduled surgeries may present a significant hardship for patients, we believe it is a necessary step to assure that all of the Commonwealth’s hospitals can continue to meet the needs of patients requiring emergency care,” said Eric Dickson, MD, MHA Board Chair and president and CEO of UMass Memorial Health.

DPH defines non-essential, non-urgent scheduled procedures as “procedures that are scheduled in advance because the procedure is not a medical emergency and where delay will not result in adverse outcomes to the patient’s health.”

The Baker administration says this reduction will not impact urgent and essential procedures.

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