As Covid-19 cases rise across the country, hospitals are struggling to treat patients amid a shortage of nurses and other frontline workers—and worrying they may lose even more workers as surges continue, the Associated Press/NPR reports.
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States struggle amid surges and staff shortages
According to AP/NPR, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, and Oregon each have more Covid-19 hospitalizations now than at any other point during the pandemic. And other states, including Texas and Hawaii, are also struggling under a surge of new cases and hospitalizations.
Amid this surge in Covid-19 cases, ambulance services in hot-spot states are struggling to transfer patients to hospitals, in part because so many hospitals are short-staffed on nurses and other frontline providers, AP/NPR reports.
For instance, in Florida, Pinellas County administrator Barry Burton said some patients may wait up to an hour inside ambulances before they can be admitted into hospitals since so many beds are already occupied by Covid-19 patients. Before Covid-19, that wait was usually just 15 minutes.
Similarly, in Louisiana, Joe Kanter, the state's chief public health officer, said one patient who suffered a heart attack had to be transferred between six hospitals before an ED in New Orleans had room to take him in. "It's a real dire situation," he said. "There's just not enough qualified staff in the state right now to care for all these patients."
And in a hospital ED in Honolulu, patients have had to wait on gurneys for more than 24 hours because of a lack of staff to open more beds, Patrick Switzer, a nurse, said.
"Somebody who's been sitting in the [ED] for 30 hours is miserable," Switzer said. He also said working felt like being in a "constant state of anxiety, knowing you don't have the tools that you need to take care of your patients because we're stretched so thin."
Hospitals are losing nurses to out-of-state opportunities, burnout
According to AP/NPR, two issues are driving many of these nursing shortages amid the Covid-19 surge: pandemic burnout and lucrative out-of-state offers. Hospitals are trying to address these issues with new retention strategies.
For instance, Julie Staub, EVP of Jackson Memorial Health System in Miami, said her health system has been losing nurses to staffing agencies and hospitals in other states that offer them double and triple the salary. "You are seeing folks chase the dollars," Staub said. "If they have the flexibility to pick up and go somewhere else and live for a week, months, whatever and make more money, it is a very enticing thing to do. I think every health care system is facing that."
To retain more nurses, Staub said the system's hospitals are offering retention bonuses to nurses who stay for a set amount of time and paying nurses who work additional 12-hour shifts the usual time-and-a-half overtime, plus $500 per shift. However, even with these incentives, the health system has still had to turn to staffing agencies to fill openings.
Some nurses—many of whom are already fatigued from working throughout the pandemic—are also leaving the profession completely due to burnout.
According to AP/NPR, providers are dealing not only with an extraordinarily high number of Covid-19 patients—with the country reporting a daily average of more than 116,000 new coronavirus infections and 50,000 hospitalizations, averages not seen since the winter. This means providers are not only dealing with an extraordinarily high number of Covid-19 patients, but also seeing more non-Covid patients now for accidents, postponed surgeries, or other situations.
"Anecdotally, I'm seeing more and more nurses say, 'I'm leaving, I've had enough,'" Gerard Brogan, director of nursing practice with National Nurses United, said of the increasing burden on nurses. "'The risk to me and my family is just too much.'"
For instance, Michelle Thomas, an RN and ED manager in Arizona, resigned three weeks ago, saying that she was unsure if she would ever return to nursing after her experiences during the pandemic. "There was never a time that we could just kind of take a breath," Thomas said. "I hit that point ... I can't do this anymore. I'm so just tapped out."
"It's ... incredibly taxing and traumatizing," she said. (Associated Press/NPR, 8/10)