In health care limbo: Hundreds of Nebraska hospital patients waiting to be transferred

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – The Nebraska Hospital Association says delays in patient discharges to other facilities, like nursing homes, are a growing concern for hospitals.

“And it’s reaching the point of a crisis, impacting hundreds of Nebraskans every single month,” President Jeremy Nordquist said. “Our hospitals report that at any given time, there are over 220 patients sitting in a hospital waiting to be discharged.”

He said out of those patients, more than 100 of them reported waiting for at least a month to be placed elsewhere, and 18 waited for at least six months.

While difficulty placing patients isn’t new, the hospital association said factors like COVID-19 and inflation have exacerbated the situation.

“These patients are medically ready to be moved to a lower, more appropriate level of care, like a skilled nursing facility or a long-term care facility,” Nordquist said. “They do not need to be in an acute care hospital bed.”

Over the past five years, more than 500 long-term care facilities have closed nationwide, according to the association.

SEE ALSO: Nebraska long-term care homes still at risk of closure, plead for more Medicaid money

It says nursing homes and other post-hospital settings provide critical services for Nebraska’s patients but are struggling to recruit and retain the staff needed to provide smooth transitions across the health care system.

“And we are doing our darnedest; it’s a grind every day,” said Melinda Kentfield, chief nursing executive at Methodist Fremont Health.

She said that shortening delays and optimizing the flow of patients is an ongoing priority and that workers understand how frustrating it can be for patients to not get the beds they need.

“They’re disappointed; they’re frustrated with it,” Kentfield said. “And they’re also disappointed and frustrated when they are potentially being discharged and they can’t get into their local nursing home where their family’s at because there are no beds. They can’t, and we have to have them go outside their communities.”

The hospital association said it’s looking to government leaders and the rest of the health care community to help find solutions.

There are several bills in the Legislature this year that the association says could help.

A couple (LB 517 and 353) would create additional funding sources and grants for nursing homes. Another (LB 434) would allow Medicaid patients to go to long term acute care, and several bills aim to increase the number of guardians.

Nordquist said this is a complex issue, but the important thing is to continue working on it.

“There’s no one policy lever we can pull here, but we cannot just throw up out hands and say it’s too complex,” he said. “We have to make progress on this package of legislation … so Nebraskans can get the care they need.”

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