RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Nursing shortages are leading some hospitals to take drastic measures.
Martin General Hospital, located east of Rocky Mount, announced this week it is temporarily suspending operations of its ICU. Patients are being encouraged to go to Greenville, WakeMed, Duke, or UNC Hospitals for care.
Hospitals in the Triangle are dealing with nursing shortages of their own.
WakeMed has the highest vacancy rate at 27 percent, Duke is reporting roughly 9 percent, and UNC says there are 1,300 openings.
The North Carolina Nursing Association warns the shortage could last a decade or longer.
"The shortages are very significant right now and we actually expect them to get worse," said North Carolina Nursing Association CEO Tina Gordon.
The new BA5 variant could be even more pressure on front line workers.
"Really, nurses have not had a break," said Gordon. "It's better than it was, but that doesn't mean it's okay. That ongoing pressure is certainly a contributing factor to why some nurses have chosen to leave the profession."
The Association explains there are pipeline challenges in recruiting new workers. There are limited number of seats in nursing schools because of faculty availability.
"Right now, we're turning away qualified applicants to nursing school even though we need the nurses really badly," said Gordon.
Those in school are quickly seeing job offers.
ABC11 met two WakeTech nursing students, who are already working in the field while simultaneously earning degrees.
"Getting that exposure prior to nursing school is really good," said student Alicia Leiva.
"You're working alongside doctors and nurses, and administration - so you can see how hospitals work so you're not just thrown into it," said student Natalie Hahn. "It makes me more successful in school."
Some hospitals are trying to sweeten the deal to get people back on the job.
UNC is increasing pay, offering bonuses, and adding new benefits.
Spokesperson Alan Wolf says there has been some success and UNC has seen a net gain of about 350 nurses during the past year.