UNC nurse says healthcare worker shortage could be next pandemic

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- Camille Scott said March 2020 changed her life.

"I can kind of remember leaving because I went on vacation, I came back and it was COVID," said the UNC nurse.

Her pulmonary infectious diseases floor, where they treated things such as cystic fibrosis and HIV, became the COVID unit.

"I still stayed and worked on my floor because I was one of the people who shouldn't have been there, but I felt safer on my floor than anywhere in the hospital," she said.

Now she says she believes the nursing shortage is the next pandemic.

This past weekend she had to take care of five patients as the charge nurse -- something she's never done in her time at UNC.

"We just merge together and get it done," Scott said. "Sometimes you know, we have to push back and you know it's getting to the point where it's not really safe, so if you can't find another nurse, then we absolutely cannot take that patient and we have to have that conversation every time we work."

UNC Health said it is recruiting staff for hundreds of open positions.

There are 1,500 throughout the system.

Across that system, about 80 employees have resigned over the vaccine mandate.

UNC Health said 98% of its employees have confirmed their vaccination status or been granted exemptions.

It is working to confirm the status of fewer than 500 employees. It also said about 35 candidates declined job offers because of the vaccine policy.

"We take this vaccine requirement seriously and did not approve it lightly," said Alan Wolf, spokesperson for UNC Health. "UNC Health is grateful for the hard work and sacrifices of our more than 30,000 heroic health workers during the pandemic. We would rather avoid losing any employees."

UNC said those who have resigned had a wide variety of positions including nurses, other clinical providers and administrative roles.

"It is constant," Scott said. "We try and educate the unvaccinated about the vaccine. A lot of patients are like 'Well, I'm not interested. I'm not taking a flu shot either.'"

Meanwhile, over at Duke University Health System, a spokesperson said nearly 200 employees had not complied with the vaccination requirement on Sept. 21, and were subject to a seven-day unpaid leave.

"If they chose not to initiate vaccination requirements within that seven-day leave period, they could now face additional administrative actions, including dismissal," the spokesperson said.

WakeMed estimated that approximately 80% of its staff is vaccinated.

"When WakeMed's employee COVID vaccination program first started, we proactively refrained from tracking staff vaccinations to lawfully protect the privacy of their medical information. That of course has changed - as with all things COVID - and now we are asking staff to self-report and submit proof of vaccination. We should have more definitive data after Nov. 12, which is still the deadline for all employees, medical staff members, contractors, and volunteers to comply with the COVID vaccination requirement," Kristin Kelly, a spokesperson for WakeMed told ABC11. "Full compliance with the policy means that WakeMed staff have completed the vaccine series (one or both shots), received approval for exemption, or received approval for deferment by Nov. 12. Non-compliance for WakeMed staff will result in progressive action up to and including termination of employment. Similar to other health systems, there will be a brief probationary period to allow any non-compliant employees to be vaccinated - and ensure optimal safety of our staff, patients, and community."
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