Montana hospitals suffering from anesthesiologist shortages

Montana's health systems have been suffering from a shortage of anesthesiologists, which has only worsened due to COVID-19, according to a Jan. 6 report from the Billings Gazette

In October, the Billings (Mont.) Clinic needed 35 more full-time anesthesiologists to meet patient needs. 

Over the last two decades, the need for anesthesiologists has grown, as they are used in every department, including radiology, endoscopy and more. 

Many hospitals have been forced to rely on expensive traveling anesthesiologists to keep up with demand. In 2021, anesthesia providers and nurse anesthetists were the most in-demand traveling medical providers.  

When elective surgeries returned in Montana following the COVID pandemic, the state experienced gaps in the anesthesia workforce. 

In 2004, Montana passed a law allowing certified registered nurse anesthesiologists to practice independently without physician supervision. One-hundred percent of rural anesthesia services are performed by CRNAs, according to the report. 

Another struggle with anesthesiologists on-staff at hospitals is that while they are on call, there is no guarantee that their services will be needed. Without procedures to bill to insurance, they might not get paid. 

In November, Billings Clinic attempted to alleviate a shortage by signing a contract with Billings Anesthesiology. 

"Over the last few years, there has been an historic nationwide shortage of anesthesiologists which has created a challenging environment for recruitment and retention across the country," the clinic said in a statement. "Combined with the natural movement of retirements and relocations, those challenges have also been felt locally. Both parties are committed to continue working together to provide high-quality, physician-delivered anesthesia care to the patients and communities we serve."

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