There was already a nationwide nursing shortage before the pandemic. Now it’s a full-blown crisis impacting every hospital in South Florida.
“We’re down about at least 400 nurses within our system,” said Carol Biggs, the chief nursing executive of Jackson Health Systems. “We’re now hiring nurses even prior to them getting their license.”
Nursing students feel like the cavalry riding in to save the day.
“My top priority is to take care of as many people as I can, especially as a professional nurse, my plan is to do as much as I can for the community that has helped to get me to this point, right?” said Ayleen Escobar, a nursing student in Miami-Dade College’s nursing program.
A group of health care executives and politicians gathered Monday at Miami-Dade College to discuss solutions to the nursing shortage. There is no magic short-term cure. Local hospitals are relying on schools like Miami-Dade College and Broward College to train as many nurses as possible as fast as possible. There was also talk in the meeting about financial aid to help hospitals cover extra costs. Jackson Health CEO Carlos Migoya said his hospital system is paying about $150 million dollars more in overtime because there aren’t enough nurses to work every shift, and he blames the pandemic.
“Many of the nurses have been dealing with this for the last two years have decided to call it quits, they’ve retired early, many of them have gotten out of the health care industry and some have chosen to make more money by going to work at temp agencies,” Migoya said. “What’s happened now after COVID, those temp agencies have been able to double what they used to charge. Right now hospitals are paying a lot more for the same care.”
Aurelio Fernandez, the CEO of the Memorial Health Care System in Broward County, said it’s not just nurses, there’s a shortage of all health care specialties, driven by needs created by COVID.
“At one point, in August of this year, 49% of our patients were COVID positive, and that put a tremendous amount of stress on the health care system and how we manage patient care,” Fernandez said. “Now we’re below 55 patients in the health care system, we have less than 10 patients in critical care who are COVID positive.”
The hospital CEOs said vaccination is the key to keeping hospitalizations down and urged everyone to get their booster shots to protect against the Omicron variant.
Migoya said the best way to measure the severity of the pandemic at any given time is to look at the number of people hospitalized with COVID.
“Omicron is a great example. Early, early notices of omicron are saying it’s two or three times more infectious than delta, which is highly infectious itself, but the severity of it is not as high as delta, so what they’ve seen in other parts of the world is right now, they haven’t had as many hospitalizations and if that stays constant —and we hope it does — this could be the end of the pandemic,” Migoya said, assuming enough people get vaccinated or obtain natural immunity through infection.