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Hospitals say housing crisis leads to staffing shortages, long wait times

Lee Health, NCH patients face long waits for care
Posted at 11:31 PM, Feb 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-24 23:31:15-05

NAPLES, Fla. — The biggest hospital systems in Lee and Collier counties say they’re experiencing an unprecedented volume of patients — which has led to extra long wait times.

As a result, they’re asking patients to explore other options in non-emergency situations.

We’ve seen a growth in our population in Southwest Florida, which means more people in the ER. But hospitals also are still dealing with staff shortages that started with the pandemic and have gotten worse as affordable housing gets harder and harder to find.

“Our volumes in the ER and hospital are unprecedented — in part because of the pandemic, and in part because of season and an influx of seasonal residents,” said Armando Llechu, chief officer of hospital operations at Lee Health.

While more and more people are visiting Southwest Florida, many are staying in town longer and longer.

As a result, NCH in Collier County says it’s staying busy year-round.

“We used to have a greater seasonal influx. We don’t have that any more,” said Nicole Tregea, a cardiac director at NCH. “Now we’re busy pretty much all the time. Every day constant battle of how we’er going to staff it.”

On Thursday afternoon, NCH’s website showed more than an hour and a half wait at all three of its Immediate Care clinics — including a five hour wait at one.

Part of the problem is area hospitals are facing a staffing shortage.

“We have over 2,000 vacancies across Lee Health,” Llechu said.

People from NCH’s human resources department say a lack of affordable housing in Collier County is a major contributing factor. The NCH representatives were at the county commissioners meeting this week to speak about the need for more middle-class housing options.

“We are finding talent elsewhere that wants to move here, but they cannot afford to do so,” NCH director of human resources Todd Lyon said at the commissioners meeting.

Eric Macino, the director of staffing at NCH, said he’s had to change his hiring process. Now, before he offers a nurse a job, he asks them to find a place to live first.

“That’s usually when they come back in two weeks and say, ‘Are you kidding me, how can anyone afford to live in that town?’"

The hospitals are asking people to explore their tele-health options, which allow patients to meet virtually with doctors for non-emergency issues. Both NCH and Lee Health offer free tele-health consultations. You can find NCH’s option here, and Lee Health’s here.