Hospitals run low on nurses as they get swamped with COVID

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Some facilities are also losing workers to burnout and lucrative out-of-state temporary gigs.

Posted: Aug 10, 2021 4:16 PM

AP - The rapidly escalating surge in COVID-19 infections across the U.S. has caused a shortage of nurses and other front-line staff in virus hot spots that can no longer keep up with the flood of unvaccinated patients and are losing workers to burnout and lucrative out-of-state temporary gigs.

Florida, Arkansas and Louisiana all have more people hospitalized with COVID-19 than at any other point in the pandemic, and nursing staff is being stretched thin.

In Florida, virus cases have filled so many hospital beds that ambulance services and fire departments are straining to respond to emergencies. Some patients wait inside ambulances for up to an hour before hospitals in St. Petersburg, Florida, can admit them — a process that usually takes about 15 minutes, Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton said.

One person who suffered a heart attack was bounced from six hospitals before finding an emergency room in New Orleans that could take him in, said Joe Kanter, Louisiana’s chief public health officer.

“It’s a real dire situation,” Kanter said. “There’s just not enough qualified staff in the state right now to care for all these patients.”

Michelle Thomas resigned as a manager of the emergency department of a Tucson, Arizona, hospital three weeks ago after hitting a wall.

“There was never a time that we could just kind of take a breath,” Thomas said Tuesday. “I hit that point … I can’t do this anymore. I’m so just tapped out.”

She helped other nurses cope with being alone in rooms with dying patients and holding mobile phones so family members could say their final goodbyes.

“It’s like incredibly taxing and traumatizing,” said Thomas, who is unsure if she will ever return to nursing.

Miami’s Jackson Memorial Health System, Florida’s largest medical provider, has been losing nurses to staffing agencies, other hospitals and pandemic burnout, Executive Vice President Julie Staub said. The hospital's CEO says nurses are being lured away to jobs in other states at double and triple the salary.

Staub said system hospitals have started paying retention bonuses to nurses who agree to stay for a set period. To cover shortages, nurses who agree to work extra are getting the typical time-and-a-half for overtime plus $500 per additional 12-hour shift. Even with that, the hospital sometimes still has to turn to agencies to fill openings.

“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.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday directed state officials to use staffing agencies to find additional medical staff from beyond the state’s borders as the delta variant overwhelms its present staffing resources. He also has sent a letter to the Texas Hospital Association to request that hospitals postpone all elective medical procedures voluntarily.

Parts of Europe have so far avoided a similar hospital crisis, despite wide circulation of the delta variant, with help from vaccines.

The United Kingdom on Monday had more than 5,900 COVID-19 patients in hospitals, but the latest surge has not overwhelmed medical centers. As of Tuesday, the government said 75 percent of adults have been fully vaccinated.

The same was true in Italy, where the summer infections have not resulted in any spike in hospital admissions, intensive care admissions or deaths. About 3,200 people in the nation of 60 million were hospitalized Tuesday in regular wards or ICUs, according to Health Ministry figures.

Italian health authorities advising the government on the pandemic attribute the relatively contained hospital numbers to the nation’s inoculation campaign, which has fully vaccinated 64.5% of Italians 12 years of age or older.

The U.S. is averaging more than 116,000 new coronavirus infections a day along with about 50,000 hospitalizations, levels not experienced since the winter surge. Unlike other points in the pandemic, hospitals now have more non-COVID patients for everything from car accidents to surgeries that were postponed during the outbreak.

That has put even more burden on nurses who were already fatigued after dealing with constant death among patients and illnesses in their ranks.

“Anecdotally, I’m seeing more and more nurses say, ‘I’m leaving, I’ve had enough,’” said Gerard Brogan, director of nursing practice with National Nurses United, an umbrella organization of nurses unions across the U.S. “’The risk to me and my family is just too much.’”

COVID-19 hospitalizations have now surpassed the pandemic’s worst previous surge in Florida, with no signs of letting up, setting a record of 13,600 on Monday, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. More than 2,800 required intensive care. At the height of last year’s summer surge, there were more than 10,170 COVID-19 hospitalizations.

At Westside Regional Medical Center in Plantation, Florida, the number of COVID-19 patients has been doubling each week for the past month, wearing down the already short staff, said Penny Ceasar, who handles admissions there.

The hospital has converted overflow areas to accommodate the rise in admissions. Some staffers have fallen ill with COVID-19.

“It’s just hard. We’re just tired. I just want this thing over,” Ceasar said.

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Associated Press writers Jennifer Kelleher, Freida Frisaro, Kelli Kennedy and Melinda Deslatte contributed to this report.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 497790

Reported Deaths: 9917
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34102530
DeSoto31839398
Hinds31837622
Jackson24314377
Rankin21881388
Lee15427234
Madison14525279
Jones13772241
Forrest13412250
Lauderdale11937314
Lowndes10934185
Lamar10470135
Pearl River9431237
Lafayette8454138
Hancock7697126
Washington7365156
Oktibbeha7111129
Monroe6727174
Warren6642176
Pontotoc6609101
Neshoba6606205
Panola6460131
Marshall6386132
Bolivar6266145
Union596094
Pike5784152
Alcorn5633101
Lincoln5417134
George491879
Scott470998
Tippah465381
Prentiss464181
Leflore4627143
Itawamba4596104
Adams4570119
Tate4546109
Copiah445191
Simpson4421116
Wayne438572
Yazoo438586
Covington427394
Marion4216107
Sunflower4215104
Coahoma4115104
Leake407787
Newton380879
Grenada3692108
Stone358464
Tishomingo356391
Attala330289
Jasper328265
Winston313191
Clay306375
Chickasaw296767
Clarke290694
Calhoun277945
Holmes266987
Smith262550
Yalobusha232647
Tallahatchie225251
Walthall217763
Greene215548
Lawrence211140
Perry204755
Amite203954
Webster201645
Noxubee185340
Montgomery179056
Jefferson Davis170642
Carroll167438
Tunica158639
Benton147438
Kemper141241
Choctaw133026
Claiborne131237
Humphreys129038
Franklin119128
Quitman106227
Wilkinson104539
Jefferson94234
Sharkey64020
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 812694

Reported Deaths: 15142
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1139601904
Mobile721751321
Madison51923685
Shelby37240339
Baldwin37044538
Tuscaloosa34902599
Montgomery33919719
Lee23122240
Calhoun22125469
Morgan20620370
Etowah19739496
Marshall18238298
Houston17288405
St. Clair15897337
Cullman15297290
Limestone15178198
Elmore15038284
Lauderdale14125294
Talladega13692271
DeKalb12554258
Walker11069364
Blount10081174
Autauga9883146
Jackson9776177
Coffee9176188
Dale8856180
Colbert8781200
Tallapoosa7032195
Escambia6725127
Covington6672179
Chilton6580160
Russell624758
Franklin5927105
Chambers5558142
Marion4952126
Dallas4854199
Clarke472681
Pike4716105
Geneva4558126
Winston4461101
Lawrence4252117
Bibb421686
Barbour355374
Marengo333989
Monroe329962
Randolph324763
Butler323994
Pickens313581
Henry310565
Hale308787
Cherokee299457
Fayette290579
Washington250851
Cleburne245958
Crenshaw243375
Clay239767
Macon230662
Lamar215446
Conecuh185351
Coosa177738
Lowndes173161
Wilcox167038
Bullock151744
Perry138040
Sumter131138
Greene125544
Choctaw86627
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A cold front passing through our area overnight will bring into our area some of the coolest temperatures of the season so far. We will see most of the highs this weekend only in the upper 60s to lower 70s. While overnight lows will drop off down into the 40s Saturday night.
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