In pandemic, hospitals struggle to lure scarce nurses
After Jackson Memorial Hospital along with tens of other Florida hospitals reported a critical shortage in nursing staff for August, impacting the ability to function at full capacity, local hospitals are trying to put their best foot forward to attract nurses back into their facilities.
While the National Center for Health Workforce has analyzed shortages and surpluses in the nursing workforce across the US, indicating that Florida will have a surplus of 22.4% adequacy in the supply and demand of nurses in 2030, Florida hospitals reported last week a staffing shortage of nurses due to the stresses of the pandemic.
Triggering the nursing shortage are the stresses of the job, said Jose David Suarez, chief medical officer of Keralty Hospital in Miami.
“We’re going through a national health crisis,” Dr. Suarez said. “Historically, a lot of the nurses that have been coming out really had to work long hours, the pay was not that good, compared to other professions, and when Covid-19 hit it transformed everything.”
Florida is one of the highest employment level states, with about 183,130 registered nurses as of May 2020. Registered nurses in Miami earn an average of $72,300 per year, 9% less than the national average salary, which is $80,010. Hawaii, Massachusetts, Oregon and Alaska have average nurse salaries of $95,000-105,000. California pays its nurses the highest salary, at an average $120,560, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“A lot of nurses were being pulled off to different parts of the country and offered a lot of money,” Dr. Suarez said. “A lot of the older nurses said, ‘I’m not going to be involved with this deadly disease, I’m in my 50s or 60s,’ and that increased retirements.”
Staffing has become a great challenge for hospitals like the Jackson Memorial Hospital, said Carlos Migoya, Jackson’s chief executive officer, at an online news conference with Gov. Ron DeSantis on Aug. 4.
Mr. Migoya said nurses taking jobs with travel-staffing companies are earning two or three times the amount they used to earn being part of the hospital staff.
A Florida Hospital Association member poll indicated that 60% of hospitals were expected to suffer from staffing shortages this week, as Florida was reporting 134,506 new cases of Covid-19 as of Aug. 5 and only 63% of its population is vaccinated, according to Florida Department of Health’s weekly report of Covid-19.
To mitigate the shortage, Keralty Hospital offering nurses flexible hours, “8-hour shifts to try not to overwhelm them,” Dr. Suarez said. The hospital is also putting nurse practitioners in key areas to assist the nurses, increased the number of certified nursing assistants, and is bringing in nursing students to learn and help with the healthcare process.
Mercy Hospital said in a statement that as Covid-19 cases continue to increase across South Florida, which is dealing with a wave of the Delta variant, staffing is a current top priority.
“We are actively working to ensure our caregivers have the support they need to safely and effectively care for our patients,” said Emily Scerba, a spokesperson for Mercy Hospital. “That includes bringing in additional nurses from our HCA Healthcare sister facilities in other markets, optimizing recruitment to expand staffing, and contracting with local and national nursing support.”
What’s happening now is battle fatigue, Dr. Suarez said.
“We have a problem with respiratory therapists, physical therapies, x-ray technicians, CAT scan technicians,” he said. “It’s a big list of shortages that hospitals are trying to fill.”