Anesthesiologist shortages in Montana leave hospitals scrambling for solutions


Editor’s note: This is the first of two stories examining the anesthesiologist shortage in Billings. On Monday, the Gazette looks into the controversial solution of using lesser-trained Certified Registered Nurse Anesthesiologists

With a presence in nearly every department in the hospital, anesthesiologists say a hospital system’s health can be gauged by the stability of its anesthesia department. 

And that stability has been challenged lately at hospitals across the country as anesthesiology has struggled to keep up to evolving methods of delivery and a post-Covid explosion in demand for medal procedures.

Over the last two decades, the need for anesthesia services has stretched far beyond the operating room, reaching into nearly every department, including emergency rooms, labor and delivery, interventional radiology, endoscopy and pain management.

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Compounding the challenge is a deepening shortage of anesthesiologists, a shortfall recently accelerated by early retirements during the stressful peak of the pandemic.

The shortage is especially acute in rural states like Montana where medical professionals have long been in short supply. 

“The anesthesia workforce has gone from bad to worse. Demand greatly exceeds supply,” said Dr. Brian Harrington, who until recently practiced with Billings Anesthesiologists which contracts with Billings Clinic.


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