Florida still facing nurse shortage as nationwide nurses group pleads for help fighting coronavirus

Coronavirus

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Nurses across the country are urging officials to take more action to slow the spread of COVID-19 as new cases erupt in many states, including Florida.

During a virtual National Nurses United press conference on Monday, five front line health care workers shared stories of what they’ve experienced while working with COVID-19 patients in their respective states.

Marissa Lee, a nurse at Oceola Regional Medical Center in Kissimmee, spoke about the kind of “moral distress” she’s experienced for the first time in her 36 years as a nurse. She said it’s due to a lack of proper personal protective equipment, disproportionate staffing and lack of communication from corporate entities.

“Florida is a hot mess,” Lee said. “They are staffing at unsafe levels. The staffing level has gotten so unsafe that nurses are leaving.”

In a COVID-19 unit at Lee’s hospital, there are only four full time nurses. The rest are travel nurses.

Florida has long been among the states with the most severe nursing shortage. As the pandemic began ravaging the state in April, only 236,000 of the 324,000 nurses licensed to work in Florida were employed, according to the now-defunct Florida Center for Nursing.

October data from RegisteredNursing.org shows that by 2030, Florida will have the highest disparity of nursing supply and demand, with the state lacking more than 57,000 nurses.

Becoming emotional, the nurses who spoke Monday described the various problems that could arise when there are not enough nurses.

“We don’t have enough staff to take care of them. This leads to an increase in patient falls, this leads to bedsores, this leads to delays in patient care,” Consuelo Vargas, a registered nurse from Chicago, said. “You have got to have the appropriate number of nurses to take care of patients, COVID or not COVID.”

Some hospital systems, such as Tampa General Hospital, are giving their staff a voice to tell the public about the burnout they’re feeling as a result of a second wave. TGH has produced a digital series called the “COVID Chronicles” where the medical staff talks about the strain and fatigue they’re feeling.

More than 6,000 new coronavirus cases were reported in Florida on Monday, along with nearly 100 new deaths. Statewide, total coronavirus cases are closing in on 1 million, — a grim milestone that could be reached by next week.

“Nurses can handle stress but nurses cannot handle taking care of patients the way they want us to,” Lee said. “We want to take care of our patients.”

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