Health care worker staffing shortage only made worse by pandemic, American Nursing Assoc. says

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- The pandemic is making the shortage of healthcare workers worse than before.

The nursing shortage is expected to grow even more in the next year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Dr. Ernest Grant, the president of the American Nursing Association and former nurse at UNC.

A number of factors come into play including the burnout factor, according to Dr. Grant. Some older nurses have retired early and others have left to stay at home with their kids.

"Our nursing workforce and our co-workers are feeling that and it is challenging," said Joel Ray the chief nursing officer at UNC Rex Hospital and a former nurse himself. "We've had a lot of nurses who have stepped back from full-time to part-time or part-time to out of the workforce to be with their children at home."

There are also younger nurses who are signing up for traveling opportunities where they get paid more but aren't in hospitals for a long period of time. Ray said they're bringing in travel nurses to give regular staff a break too.

"People have been working really hard," Ray said. "They are going to need some time off this summer and we need to be able to give them that."

There are 2,100 nurses at UNC Rex and the hospital is working to fill 240 positions.

A lot of this is because of the new Holly Springs campus of UNC Rex Hospital opening in September.

Duke University Health, on the other hand, has less than five percent vacancy.

"The availability of experienced nurses has decreased and like many hospitals and health systems, we are often recruiting to hire specialty nurses," said Mary Ann Fuchs, chief nurse executive for the Duke University Health System.

Ray believes some nurses will come back in the fall.

UNC Rex is also onboarding 100 new graduates in the next couple of months.

Dr. Graham said the mental health needs of nurses and other healthcare professionals need to be addressed. He said more folks need to be trained and there also needs to be a recognition of the benefits necessary to keep nurses in one place.
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