As Colorado faces the highest number of COVID-19 patients it’s seen in the past year with more than 94% of the ICU beds in the state currently occupied, Gov. Jared Polis has pointed to long-term care facilities as a possible lifeline for hospitals during this surge.

Last month the governor reactivated an executive order which authorizes the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment to preserve hospital capacity by directing facilities to transfer patents that aren’t COVID-19 positive. It states that the department can direct the transfer of patients from hospitals to skilled nursing facilities and direct the facility to accept the patients.

While skilled nursing facilities have been opening up COVID wings since the pandemic began as a way to free up hospital bed space and spark collaboration among large health care systems, without adequate staffing that simply is not an option for many operators right now.

At a time when hospital referrals are still down for SNFs from pre-COVID rates and building better hospital partnerships is more important than ever in post-acute care, Vivage Senior Living Vice President of Ancillary Services Heather Terhark sees it as a missed opportunity for operators to step up in the care continuum.

Terhark admitted frustration over the bind that many operators are now in as they want to help out their hospital partners but are unable to. One way health care officials across the state have been pushing the state to make an immediate impact on staffing is by opening the state borders to bring in more nurses from outside Colorado for nursing homes to help unclog hospitals.

“We want to partner with our hospitals, we want to take these folks that are coming from the hospital but we are limited based on how much staff we have available, depending on the home,” Terhark said. “You feel like you’re letting the system down because you know they have this incredible need and you can’t meet that need the way you want to.”

Colorado Health Care Association President and CEO Doug Farmer admitted that traveling nurses may not be a silver bullet solution for the industry’s staffing crisis but it could help provide some relief in the short term.

“I don’t know what the solution is going to be,” he told Skilled Nursing News. “But I think the one that we spent the most time talking about was asking the state to pay for the cost of traveling nurses and to pay directly for those traveling nurses. That way our members can get staffed up immediately.”

With several open positions for registered nurses, licensed professional nursing, and certified nursing assistants, traveling nurses would help operators like Vivage open up more units to provide critical care.

Farmer has been working closely with state officials to figure out how to best decompress the hospitals during this latest surge, which includes tabulating how many hospital admissions need SNF-level of care.

“We’re pairing those up with our providers and where they have open beds and we’re having conversations with the state about what they can do to actually help bring in staff to be able to make those beds usable,” he explained. “There are plenty of vacant beds in skilled nursing centers around the state. The challenge is that we just don’t have the staff to fill those beds and provide the quality of care that we need to provide.”

Farmer thinks the state’s support to bring in some traveling nurses could help stem the tide with this latest surge.

“I wish I could tell you how much staff it takes to put in five residents or 10 residents, it depends so much on the individual building,” Farmer said. “It also depends on the nature of the resident that’s coming in.”

Farmer described traveling nurses as a “quick solution” if the state is able to contract with an entity that can provide quick access to traveling nurses.

“The willingness is there, we just need the staffing,” Farmer said. “If we can figure out the staffing, I think we can certainly help to decompress the hospitals of those residents that are appropriate for skilled nursing facility placement.”