Healthcare worker shortage adds strain as COVID hospitalizations rise in Florida

The latest COVID-19 infection surge is putting pressure on hospitals across Florida as the industry struggles with a worker shortage.

"Our hospitals around the state are seeing a fairly dramatic rate of increase in hospitalizations, a rate of increase that they did not experience previously in the past two surges. So that is happening over a shorter period of time," said Mary Mayhew, the president and CEO of Florida Hospital Association.

Mayhew said the total number of current COVID hospitalizations is still less than what was in January or last July. But time in front of doctors and nurses is in higher demand, even with non-COVID-related procedures.

"Some of this is the pent-up demand for all of those months throughout the last year where electives were restricted," said Mayhew.

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It all adds to the stress and strain on the job. Healthcare leaders said they are battling a worker shortage and need all available hands. 

"Well, what we don't need is to have our nurses recruited away to other states and we are concerned about that," said Mayhew. "As other states are hiring staffing agencies to recruit nurses, we do not want to see an exodus of our nurses out of the state of Florida to support demand elsewhere in the country."

Another concern is what the delta mutation will do to the body.

"Even if you are not very severely ill and wind up in the hospital, the opportunity to have even neurological or psychiatric outcomes within the six-month period is very high," said Dr. Kevin Sneed of USF Health.

Doctors are warning people without the shot of potential consequences.

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"So we're encouraging everyone to stop wondering or just kind of waiting and seeing and seeing what might happen or if I get infected, I'll be ok within a two-week period. The chance of you not getting ok after a two-week period is very high," said Sneed.

Hospital leaders said getting the vaccine is the best way to help healthcare workers and help yourself.

We need people to get vaccinated. For the last year and a half, younger individuals have heard that the greatest risk was for those over age 65. We together have got to collectively raise our voice and have the 25-year-old to understand that his peers are getting hospitalized, that it is affecting a younger group," said Mayhew. "They need to get vaccinated. That's what's going to keep them out of the ICU, off a ventilator, and it's going to keep them safe."

FHA said Florida’s hospitals are well equipped to handle the surge and have enough beds available. AdventHealth West Florida said it’s seeing the delta strain come through the most in the hospital system.