Plans to open needed hospital beds in the New Orleans area may not go through unless the region's staffing conditions improve, said local healthcare leaders in response to a recent Government Accountability Office report.
Healthcare industry officials in the region said they expect a need for more staffed beds -- though not at the levels reported by the GAO -- and said opening those beds is contingent on attracting and hiring staff. The GAO's first report since March on New Orleans healthcare concluded that "a major challenge facing the greater New Orleans area is attracting and retaining enough nurses and support staff," but also said Louisiana officials expect to open nearly 700 additional staffed beds by year-end.
As of April -- the date of the GAO's research -- hospital officials reported to the GAO that an adequate number of staffed inpatient beds existed for all services except psychiatric care. At the time, the GAO determined that the area had about 3.2 staffed beds per 1,000 population, compared with the American Hospital Association's national average of 2.8 staffed beds per 1,000. The report said that hospital officials as of April planned to open 674 staffed beds by the end of the year.
But the GAO study did not look at the numbers of staffed beds in areas outside of Region One in Louisiana, which include Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes, said John Matessino, president and chief executive officer of the Louisiana Hospital Association. Hospitals in Region One, which accounts for much of the greater New Orleans area, are caring for many patients from outside the area. Matessino agreed that staffing levels continue to be a major concern, and that it is unlikely there will be enough staff to manage the number of beds included in the GAO's report by year-end.
Nevertheless, growth is occurring. A spokesman for the Louisiana State University system, said it is planning to have 156 staffed beds at University Hospital when it reopens, tentatively set for mid-November. And a federal Oct. 20 deadline looms for the Louisiana Health Care Redesign Collaborative to develop a blueprint for building an evidence-based, quality-driven healthcare state system (Aug. 21, p. 6).
Separately, Mabel and Salvador Mangano, former operators of St. Rita's Nursing Home in St. Bernard Parish, pleaded not guilty last week to 35 counts of negligent homicide and 64 counts of cruelty to the infirm. The state attorney general alleged that residents drowned after the failure to evacuate them after Hurricane Katrina hit; a grand jury indicted the couple last month.