Understaffed hospitals in need of nurses amid COVID-19 surge

A dramatic spike in COVID-19 cases, primarily due to the highly infectious Delta variant, is weighing heavily on nurses, which are already in short supply.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID has surged in recent weeks. Some hospitals say they are caring for as many patients as they did during the last COVID surge back in January. It is beginning to feel like déjà vu.

"We’re having to send patients to overflow areas like last year," said Hershey Pyle, a registered nurse for more than 40 years.

Many nurses say their hospitals have been understaffed for years, and this new wave of COVID patients is making their plight worse.

To fill staff positions, hospitals are offering nurses hundreds of dollars on top of their regular daily pay to pick up an extra shift.

"You have those nurses becoming exhausted and it’s just a vicious cycle of having enough nurses and them quitting because they’re exhausted," said Tiffany McMahan, a registered nurse.

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At one hospital, Lakeland Regional Medical Center, administrators are taking a creative approach to recruiting new nurses and other staff.

It’s called "Walk in Wednesdays," and potential hires can just walk in without an appointment and apply.

"The intent of that was to make the application process convenient, personal, and simple," explained Scott Dimmick, head of Human Resources for Lakeland Regional.

The facility hopes to hire 150 new nurses over the next few months.

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Union leader, Ed Chambers, who represents thousands of nurses including those at Lakeland Regional, says another part of the solution is to reduce the number of COVID patients coming into the hospital in the first place by encouraging people to get vaccinated.

"It may not prevent you from getting the disease or illness, but it will prevent you from dying," he said.

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