M*A*S*H Meets the Bakken
With the explosive growth in the Bakken oil patch, local medical providers are inundated with an influx of accidents and patients. Matthew Grimshaw, CEO at Mercy Medical Center, “Growth here is happening so fast you really can’t stay ahead of it.” “The best we can do is keep things within our field of view and react as nimbly as possible.”
Sounds a bit like a scene from the popular TV sitcom M*A*S*H and their infamous “meatball surgery”. The difference here is that the uncontrolled influx of patients doesn’t end after 30 minutes and there are no breaks for commercial.
Mercy is the only hospital within a 40-mile radius of Williston, North Dakota. Essentially it is the flood gate for folks from all over the northwestern corner of the state and northeastern Montana. On any given day, Mercy estimates that they receive 30% more request for medical services than they can deliver due to the growing demand and current staff shortages (60 openings). Average wait time ranges from two to three hours, while only a year ago the average wait time was 60 minutes. With the inherent danger built into oilfield work, some patients come in with missing appendages. Orthopedic extremity surgeries have tripled over the past 12 months.
In direct response to the need, Mercy, a 450-employee hospital is presently undergoing a $25 million expansion, doubling the size of the emergency department and adding a new Express Care unit. Physical expansion however, will not be enough since Mercy is still struggling to fill its current job openings. The medical provider faces additional complications as they search for new employees to support expansion. A growing housing shortage and competing high paying jobs in the oil patch make it even more difficult to attract and retain quality employees. High turnover doesn’t occur among the doctors, but rather among support staff. These employees can earn significantly more working for a long list of oil companies in the area. Inspite of a 10% wage boost at the hospital, oil field defections continue.
As they say in the Bakken, things change daily. After the premiere airing of NBC’s “Rock Center with Brian Williams” on Halloween eve, Mercy received massive, immediate national response. At last count the hospital had received over 250 resumes, 393 applications, and over 50 emails from people across the country. The tsunami of interest stimulated by “Rock Center” seven minute segment on Williston is equivalent to having a hot half time ad during the Super Bowl without the price tag. For Mercy this is no trick, but an unexpected treat.