FENTON, Michigan (AP) — As the coronavirus pandemic surges across the nation and infections and hospitalizations rise, medical administrators are scrambling to find enough nursing help — especially in rural areas and at small hospitals.
Nurses are being trained to provide care in fields where they have limited experience. Hospitals are scaling back services to ensure enough staff to handle critically ill patients. And health systems are turning to short-term travel nurses to help fill the gaps.
Adding to the strain, experienced nurses are “burned out with this whole (pandemic)” and some are quitting, said Kevin Fitzpatrick, an emergency room nurse at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan, where several left just in the past month to work in hospice or home care or at outpatient clinics.
“And replacing them is not easy,” Fitzpatrick said.
As a result, he said, the ER is operating at about five nurses short of its optimal level at any given time, and each one typically cares for four patients as COVID-19 hospitalizations surge anew. Hospital officials did not respond to requests for comment.
But the departures are not surprising, according to experts, considering not only the mental toll but the fact that many nurses trained in acute care are over 50 and at increased risk of complications if they contract COVID-19, while younger nurses often have children or other family to worry about.
“Who can actually work and who feels safe working are limited by family obligations to protect their own health,” said Karen Donelan, professor of U.S. health policy at Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management. “All of those things have been factors.”