The Iowa Department of Public Health is no longer tracking the county of residence of Iowans who are hospitalized for treatment of COVID-19. The change was made, a state spokesperson said, to ease the reporting burden on hospitals as they struggle with staffing shortages.
For more than a year, the Iowa Department of Public Health’s coronavirus website has included a link to a report that listed the number of people from each county who were patients at Iowa hospitals. The report was last updated on Oct. 27, and this week the link disappeared from the state website.
“The original use for this report was to assist in disease trend analysis early in the pandemic to identify counties that may have higher levels of acuity,” IDPH Spokesperson Sarah Ekstrand wrote in an email to the Times Citizen. “The report is no longer needed for this purpose, and provides limited value in assessing acuity.
“Iowa hospitals continue to be stressed for staffing, and any effort IDPH can do to reduce the burden on hospitals will provide much needed relief to Iowa’s hospitals,” Ekstrand wrote. “IDPH will continue to work closely with hospital partners to balance the ongoing data required to assess hospital capacity with the need to reduce reporting burdens on Iowa hospitals.”
Hospitals across the country have struggled in recent months to retain employees and attract new applicants. According to a report issued earlier this month by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in health care is down 460,000 workers since February 2020. On Wednesday, Hansen Family Hospital in Iowa Falls was listing 12 open positions, and MercyOne North Iowa had 347 open positions listed at its locations in Mason City.
At a meeting last week, Hansen Family Hospital CEO George Von Mock reported on changes to benefits for hospital employees. In addition to increasing the maximum dental benefits and life insurance for employees, the hospital is also waiving copays when its employees see HFH clinics’ providers for treatment. The hospital is also now extending benefits to part-time employees, as well as full-time workers.
“We were kind of an outlier,” Von Mock said of the previous absence of benefits for part-time employees. “We think that could help with some recruiting as well.”
The Iowa Department of Public Health is still publishing hospitalization data on its coronavirus website, but only at the state and regional levels. The numbers released Wednesday show an increase in the number of people in Iowa hospitals for treatment of COVID-19, to 623 on Tuesday. There are 146 people in Iowa’s ICUs, and 109 people were on ventilators on Tuesday.
Hardin County is one of 12 counites that comprise Regional Medical Coordination Center (RMCC) 2. As of Tuesday, 42 people were hospitalized in the region for treatment of COVID-19, and there were nine people in ICUs in the region.