Health care crisis looms

North Dakota State Roundup

Published March 1, 2001  | March 2001 issue

Nursing shortages combined with a lack of funding for area hospitals are creating a recipe for disaster within North Dakota's health care industry. The state's nursing shortage is epitomized in Rugby, where the medical center has 50 openings for licensed or certified positions.

As a nationwide nursing shortage absorbs more of the state's supply of nurses, conditions are expected to worsen. Rural communities are losing nurses to Fargo and Bismarck, which pay higher salaries largely due to greater insurance reimbursement.

In addition, decreased Medicare, Medicaid and private reimbursement dollars for services are forcing hospitals throughout North Dakota to make tough decisions, including cutting services, forgoing supplies and reducing staff. While similar problems exist nationally, they are especially striking in North Dakota since hospitals there receive less federal reimbursement money than hospitals in other states for the same procedures.

According to North Dakota's U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad, Our Lady of Mercy Hospital in New York City receives $8,500 to treat a patient with pneumonia, and the same patient treated at Mercy Hospital in Devils Lake would receive just $4,200 in reimbursement. A Bismarck hospital official noted that the reimbursement disparity is an issue because medical costs are similar in North Dakota, or in some instances higher than they are in other regions.

Conrad is one of three senators planning to lead the U.S. Senate oversight of Medicare reform. According to some heads of North Dakota hospitals, Congress may be too late. Meanwhile, cutbacks will continue, patients will see fewer services and personnel in North Dakota hospitals and clinics, and face longer wait times. According to certain medical center officials, some hospital closures throughout the state are a distinct possibility.

Rosie Cataldo

For other viewpoints on the health care worker situation, see District Voices.