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Hospital seeks pandemic hazard pay

CCMSD taking COVID-19 patients from other facilities

With COVID-19 hitting this region hard, CEO Micki Lyons is seeking to provide hazard pay for employees of Crook County Medical Services District (CCMSD). The main hospital has been closed to visitation and regional hospitals are now full to overflowing, she said on Friday; employees are feeling the strain.

For months, CCMSD was able to keep the pandemic on the other side of its doors. However, confirmed cases have now topped 70 in Crook County, Lyons told the board of trustees on Friday, “which is a pretty significant [increase] from the nine we were at for many, many months.”

Lyons pointed out, though that the biggest issue currently facing the district when it comes to the pandemic is not locally identified cases, but the fact that other hospitals in this region are becoming overwhelmed. Sundance Hospital has now admitted three COVID-19 inpatients, Lyons said, one of which was a transfer from Gillette because Campbell County Memorial Hospital had no open beds.

This is an issue occurring across the board, Lyons said. Hospitals across the region, including in Gillette and Rapid City, are now on divert, which means they are looking to send new patients elsewhere.

“Nobody is taking these COVID-19 patients so, unless they need an ICU bed, we are keeping them in the hospital,” Lyons said.

Lyons sought permission from the board to apply for CARES Act funding from the State Lands and Investments Board (SLIB), which would be used to provide hazard pay to employees of the district, all of whom have endured a grueling year. For many months, she said, the pandemic has affected staff in ways that range from constantly changing policies and procedures and additional training to figuring out overflow and moving rooms within the facility.

As the situation worsens, the increase in infections has now led CCMSD to close both the long term care unit and the main hospital to visitors, with the exception of end-of-life care.

“It’s changed every aspect of our facility – but now it’s in our facility,” Lyons said, explaining that employees are scared and worried and hazard pay would go a long way to showing the district’s appreciation that they are still coming to work. The district has been able to keep its staff healthy so far, she said, but, “it’s honestly only a matter of time.”

To figure out hazard pay, Lyons and CFO Alayna Marten calculated hours worked from March 15, when the pandemic first arrived in this area, until the most recent payroll. The result was a total of 106,000 hours across all employees.

The calculation includes every member of staff in all departments, said Lyons: “It doesn’t matter what they were doing because this has affected every department. “If approved by SLIB, hazard pay will be $2 for every hour an employee has worked during the pandemic.

Lyons warned that, without this hazard pay, the district could soon begin experiencing staffing issues.

“If we don’t show some appreciation to our staff, I have nurses who are looking to apply elsewhere, I have people calling in sick,” she said.

If the district is forced to use traveling staff, it’s going to get expensive fast, Lyons said. When asked where, during the current climate, she would look to find replacement employees, she laughed wryly and said, “That’s a good question”.

Board chairman Mark Erickson praised the staff of CCMSD for “keeping the devil outside the gate” throughout the pandemic. Trustee Connie Lindmier commented that the board will need to discuss what to do about future hazard pay at its next meeting, as the SLIB grant would be a one-off payment.

The board approved Lyons to submit an application to SLIB for hazard pay.

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