Restarted Nebraska Hospital Transfer System Sees Complaints

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Health care officials are lodging complaints about a reopened transfer center intended to help Nebraska hospitals find places to send patients who need additional care as COVID-19 cases have surged in recent weeks.

Officials at Lincoln’s Bryan Health and at smaller hospitals around the state have complained that the transfer center has not proven helpful in recent cases where very sick patients need to get to a larger hospital, the Lincoln Journal Star reported. In some cases, hospital staff reported they got no help from the system and, instead, had to make numerous calls themselves to find an intensive care bed.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts announced at the beginning of the month the reboot of the transfer center, an around-the-clock call center intended to serve as coordinator for in-state hospitals to try to keep them from getting overwhelmed.

The transfer center had first been used last year and was considered a success. But that center focused mostly on finding beds for COVID-19 patients and was run by CHI Health. The new version is being run by Nomi Health, the Utah-based company that ran COVID-19 testing operations for the state until earlier this summer. The rebooted system attempts to find beds for any patient needing more intense care.

Last week during a media briefing, a Bryan Health official said the new transfer center had not proved helpful.

Dr. Pete Lueninghoener, a family physician in the small north-central Nebraska city of O’Neill, also recounted two recent cases in which the transfer center was of little help. In one, calls to the transfer center for a patient with a perforated bowel rang unanswered. Staff ended up making nearly a dozen calls themselves to find an available ICU bed and surgeon, Lueninghoener said.

In the second case, Lueninghoener said O’Neill hospital staff called the transfer center trying to find a larger hospital for a COVID-19 patient who needed more specialized care. Lueninghoener said a person did answer the phone that time, but had no idea where O’Neill was located.

“My impression was that he was definitely not located in our state, and there was a good possibility that he was not even located in our country,” Lueninghoener said.

Dr. Gary Anthone, the state’s chief medical officer, said he was aware of concerns regarding the transfer center. The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement Wednesday that a working group of coalitions, facilities, subject matter experts, NOMI and DHHS has been created to “address needs and feedback with the transfer center as well as to enhance standard operating procedures for operations going forward.”