Bay Area hospitals say staffing levels adequate -- for now

The COVID-19 pandemic is making the national shortage of healthcare workers worse, and Florida is trying to keep up with demand. 

Tampa Bay hospital officials say the area is doing OK on staff, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges. Nurses and doctors are suffering from stress, fatigue and burnout around the country, including Florida.

"There are always challenges in ensuring we have the full array of healthcare staff. The pandemic has absolutely exacerbated those challenges," said Mary Mayhew, the president of the Florida Hospital Association.

11,384 new Florida coronavirus cases reported Wednesday; 120 new deaths

The Florida Department of Health says the number of known cases of COVID-19 in the state rose by 11,384 Wednesday. According to the state's daily update, the total number of cases in Florida is now 1,234,399.

The national shortage of nurses came out in the open during the pandemic. Some states like California are scrambling to find them, reaching out to other states and even other countries.

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Travel nurses can be a big help when demand is high. While Florida is currently in good shape, the state did bring in outside staff during the peak over the summer. 

"The ideal is to be able to recruit from other parts of the country that may not be experiencing the extreme level of hospitalizations. But unfortunately there aren’t many states that fall into that category right now," said Mayhew.

FHA said staffing numbers will be a bigger concern for Florida if hospitalizations go up after the holidays.

"We have capacity in the system. There’s still roughly 20 percent available beds, but we are monitoring that very carefully," she said.

Steady rise in COVID-19 patients not overwhelming Florida ICU’s

Infectious disease experts say Florida is in a better position to treat a surge in COVID-19 patients than it was during the summer.

To help fill the growing need long-term, there’s a push to bring new faces into the field. Saint Leo University hopes its new nursing program will help fill the need. The program will welcome students in the fall of 2021. 

"So the curriculum incorporates development of resilience and stress management and personal health and well-being in hopes that nurses will have long and rewarding careers," said Kathleen Van Eerden, the associate dean of the College of Health Professions at Saint Leo University. "Certainly COVID is a concern, but nurses are working with increasing numbers of people with chronic illnesses. In Florida we have an aging population, and we have seen more of an emphasis on health and wellness."

A Florida travel nurse agency said they are sending nurses just about everywhere right now. BayCare Health System said they get extra help through nursing internships, and AdventHealth said they try to recruit nurses with bonuses.