DALLAS (NewsNation Now) — It’s been an impossibly grueling year for the country’s healthcare workers. American hospitals are experiencing a shortage of nurses during the pandemic for a wide variety of reasons, and hospital systems across the country are now competing to get them back to work.
While the government currently has no concrete numbers on what the shortage truly looks like, anecdotal evidence straight from the source points to the severity of the need.
Integris Health is one of the largest hospital systems in Oklahoma. On its jobs listing page, more than 350 open nursing positions wait to be filled. The hospital is now offering a $25,000 signing bonus to those willing to work.
“And that’s the best way to try and attract nurses to our state,” said Dr. George Monks, the president of the Oklahoma Medical Association.
Monks said his state, like many others, already had a nursing shortage prior to the pandemic. And since the COVID-19 outbreak, 7,000 Oklahoma healthcare workers have contracted the virus.
“When you go into this having a shortage and then you have nurses that are isolated or in quarantine because there’s so much community spread of this virus, it takes a toll on our ability to deliver healthcare,” said Dr. Monks.
Wisconsin-based Aspirus Health Care is also offering its candidates a $15,000 signing bonus. In North Carolina, the pandemic is placing added strain on the decade’s-long deficit that already existed.
“Most people are prepared to be asked to work longer hours, more shifts,” said Dennis Taylor, president of the North Carolina Nurse’s Association.
NewsNation spoke with Dr. Brittany Bankhead-Kendall, an ICU doctor in Texas. She says this current workload is not sustainable, and more prevalent than we know is the resignation of frontline workers during what’s been a traumatic year.
“Probably a lot of them feel a bit of shame and guilt for leaving at a time when the team needs you the most for having to take their exit,” said Dr. Bankhead-Kendall. “And rightfully so for their own selves, for their health, for their own families.”
Bankhead-Kendall says money in the form of competitive signing bonuses is the only way left to appeal to nurses in such a trying time for hospitals.
“You know especially for a new nurse starting out, and you’ve got all these student loans that really need to be paid off, and you don’t know what health care’s going to look like over the next few years,” she said.
Healthcare heroes from coast to coast hope for the lack to be alleviated. Missouri nurse manager Michelle Cole works for Cox Medical Center in Branson.
Cole says the pressure for the four million American nurses called to the profession is at a breaking point.
“Our staff has sacrificed a lot. We have given up vacation time, we have given up days off. There’s a nursing shortage, so we’re asking staff to come in extra and they are giving their all to each and every one of these patients,” said Cole.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that during the next decade, almost 176,000 nursing jobs will be available per year. Those openings will result from retirement or a complete change in career.