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Nurses are hard to come by. Moab’s hospital has a plan to hold on to them

The Moab Regional Hospital has expanded clinic hours amid a state-wide nursing shortage.
courtesy Moab Regional Hospital
The Moab Regional Hospital has expanded clinic hours amid a state-wide nursing shortage.

Many Utah hospitals are struggling to find enough nurses to cover shifts. But in Moab, the hospital is expanding its services.

Moab Regional Hospital extended its urgent care hours on Jan. 1. The clinic now opens at 10 a.m. seven days a week. According to hospital executives, Moab is in a unique situation.

“I don't know if we're just lucky because people have, you know, an interest in living in Moab, but we've been able to attract and retain nurses from outside of the community to Moab,” said CEO Jennifer Sadoff.

But keeping employees for the long term can be a challenge. Housing shortages in Moab and more lucrative travel nurse jobs have lured away young employees.

To address the issue, the hospital is in the process of purchasing land to build housing for its staff, something Sadoff hopes will keep more employees in the area.

“The people that we're losing, you know, both in nursing and in other staffing areas, are people who have moved to the community, maybe been here for a couple of years,” she said. “They really can't get into housing in a way that makes sense for them, and so they move on to other opportunities.”

Sadoff said she always encourages people to move for growth opportunities, but she hates seeing people move away “because they can't afford to live here.”

The employment situation is worse in other parts of the state for reasons beyond housing. Hospitals have been overwhelmed by respiratory viruses like flu and RSV in recent months and some have even postponed non-essential procedures due to a surge in patients.

Nursing had already seen a drop due to the baby boomer generation aging out of the workforce, according to Andrew Nydegger, the president of the Utah Nurses Association. The problem now is younger workers that were in line to replace those jobs are exhausted three years into the pandemic.

“COVID hit and we're losing the early and middle generations of nurses now too. Because they're burnt out,” Nydegger said. “If we lose a certain percentage of nurses, at some point you're going to walk into an ER and there's not going to be someone to take care of you. Which is a scary thought.”

On a statewide level, Nydegger said stagnant wages and increasing workloads have forced more people out of the profession. He said the current trend of relying on traveling nurses to fill staffing gaps isn’t likely to go away soon, but it is not the most sustainable way forward for hospitals.

There's something to be said for consistency … and having that transition into leadership and that pathway, you know, that career pathway within the hospital system,” he said. “I think that's how you grow leaders.”

Sadoff said the Moab hospital hopes to enter the next phase of its housing project later this year.

Sean is KUER’s politics reporter.
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