Montana’s Housing Problems Threaten Hospitals, State’s Low Health Care Costs, Warns Association | Montana

December 29, 2021

Montana Economy

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(The Center Square) – The housing shortage is a concern for all parts of Montana’s economy, including healthcare, where it is difficult for the industry to hire and retain workers, according to a recent survey.

Hospitals are often the largest private employer in a community, according to Rich Rasmussen, president and CEO of the Montana Hospital Association, who added that every hospital has a housing issue that hinders recruitment. When workers cannot find housing, the hospital cannot hire them, so the hospital cannot function well and the community does not benefit, he said.

A recent MHA survey found that housing is the biggest problem hospitals face when trying to recruit workers. A list of issues facing potential employees includes limited inventory and high prices for homes for sale and rent, especially for those with low incomes, the survey found.

The housing shortage problem is twofold: A lack of housing availability and high housing costs.

Realtor.com Numbers reported by the Independent Record show that in any month over the past year, the maximum number of active real estate listings has decreased from 2019, and in some places listings only represent a third of what they were two years ago.

In Bozeman, housing costs have risen 26% over the past year, with a median price for a single-family home of just over $ 734,500 in September, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. reported. The Zillow home sales website reported that the median price of a home in Montana is almost $ 350,000, more than 27% higher than in September 2020.

Home values ​​in other parts of the state like Helena are also skyrocketing, Rasmussen said.

Rasmussen said many people think of well-paid doctors and nurses when considering hospital workers, but most hospital staff have much lower incomes. And in Montana, he said, most doctors are primary care providers with lower salaries than a specialist doctor like a neurosurgeon, or they may be new graduates with less. experience but a lot of student debt that cannot afford a high monthly rent or mortgage payment.

The housing shortage coupled with the increased need for hospital staff caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has led some hospitals to get creative.

Cut Bank’s Northern Rockies Medical Center has converted unused hospital rooms into staff apartments, Rasmussen said, and a Glendive hospital has acquired duplexes for housing. He said other health systems could provide housing as well, but lack support and resources.

“We have hospitals that have properties but they don’t have partners to help them turn property into housing,” Rasmussen said. “With a state dominated by small, critical access hospitals, the ability of these small hospitals and small communities to develop ownership is a challenge. It’s a challenge from a funding point of view if you are a small hospital as well as getting the contractors and developing the project.

Despite efforts by some hospitals to help workers access affordable housing, most hospitals have had to turn to temporary or itinerant workers, which is a very costly approach in terms of staff, Rasmussen said.

Montana Governor Greg Gianforte recently launched an incentive program in the form of a $ 12,500 relocation bonus to help attract healthcare workers to the state. Rasmussen said hospital systems are very optimistic about the incentive, but warns it is still only a short-term fix. He pointed out that Montana has the lowest health care costs in the country.

“In order to continue like this, we need to make sure we have the resources to keep costs under control. And the biggest cost center in a hospital is the staff, ”said Rasmussen. “So if we can’t get the personnel costs to a sustainable place, then you’re going to see cost increases. “

Keeping health care and housing costs reasonable will require a commitment to finding durable solutions that will last for the long term, he said, and this approach will also strengthen the state’s overall economy.

“If we want to develop the state, we have to invest in our system,” Rasmussen told The Center Square. “If we want to cut costs we need to invest in our workforce, and if we don’t fix these issues in the long run, it will be difficult for us to meet the demands to keep growing our economy while all of us. want to see it grow.