The pandemic was a surprise, the nursing shortage wasn’t

Louisiana currently has over 6,000 open nursing positions across the state
Published: Aug. 3, 2021 at 10:45 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - With record breaking number of COVID-19 patients in the hospital, health system leaders have made it clear they are having trouble keeping up.

They say there just isn’t enough staff.

“This is something that we were worried about when I was in nursing school is that in 2020 there will be a big nursing shortage,” Ecoee Rooney, the President of the Louisiana Nursing Association said.

The medical community saw the shortage coming, but not the pandemic and it’s only exacerbated the problem.

Right now there are over 6,000 open nursing positions across the state.

“The capacity to meet the needs of every patient is just not there,” LeAnne Fowler, the Director of LSU Health’s Nurse Practitioner Program said.

For someone who dedicates their life to care for and save lives, that’s not a good spot to be in.

“It’s very stressful because you basically have to just do what you can,” Fowler said. “When, in any disaster, you have to increase the capacity and expand the capacity of the workforce any way you can. What does that look like? That looks like you doing more than you normally do and trying to make sure that quality is maintained.”

There are a lot of factors contributing to the shortage over the years but a lot of it has to do with demographics. Dr. Karen Lyon with the Louisiana State Board of Nursing says the average age of nurses is getting older. Not to mention the toll a year and a half pandemic takes.

“Everybody stayed on, everybody was committed, everybody loved nurses, people were banging pots, jets were flying over, everybody recognized us, and that was all wonderful, but as it went on and on, nurses got tired,” Lyon said.

Some nurses quit or retired when things slowed down in the Spring and Summer.

In the beginning, we were also getting help from nurses in other states.

“Now those states need their nurses and so it’s harder for us to pull from states because everybody has the same issue,” Lyon said.

It’s a nurses market nationwide right now, so they are going where are better opportunities.

“Our nursing shortage difference this time, is the amount of money that nurses can make traveling,” Rooney said. “That has been a real challenge to hospitals because there’s this opportunity to make a lot of money.”

Rooney believes we need to re-work what nursing looks like and put more emphasis on mental health.

The LSBN has the applicants, there is just less faculty in hospitals to train them and clinical space for training is being converted into ICU space.

“We have probably 1,200 applicants in our queue right now that we’re trying to get licensed, but you can’t take a brand new graduate and put them in an ICU taking care of seven COVID patients,” Lyon said.

Hospitals have been partnering with schools to try and close the gap.

Ochsner has a scholarship program, and is expanding programs at Delgado, Loyola, Xavier and Chamberlain.

LCMC and Chamberlain have a tuition-free nursing program.

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