‘We’re battle-weary’: Polk County nurses face exhaustion as COVID-19 surge prompts need for extra shifts

Polk County

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POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Nurses say increasing incentives are not enough to make up for the exhaustion being felt at Tampa Bay area hospitals as COVID-19 hospitalizations surge.

One hospital is offering $500 more per shift with a four-week commitment, a nurse told 8 On Your Side.

“Personally, health-wise and stuff, I don’t know that I can do it for the $500. We’re battle-weary,” said critical care nurse Hershey Pyle.

Pyle has been working in a Polk County ICU throughout the entire pandemic. She said they are sometimes having to send patients to overflow rooms again, like last summer.

“The percentage of the people that I’m seeing in my unit that are critically ill, deathly ill, it’s because they are unvaccinated,” said Pyle.

Lakeland Regional Health was treating 174 COVID-19 patients, as of Monday. At that point, the hospital had 17 hospital beds left before having to turn to its surge plan.

“We are seeing the same nurses working over and over again, trying to pick up where the shortage is,” said nurse Tiffany McMahan. “We have those nurses who are then becoming exhausted. It’s just a vicious cycle of not having enough nurses and then them quitting because they’re exhausted.”

“We’re finding more and more, nurses are just getting fried at work. If they’re getting close to retirement, we have a lot of them are retiring early,” said Ed Chambers, president of UFCW Local 1625.

Hospital leadership does not refer to the situation as a nurse “shortage,” but says it’s “all hands on deck.”

“We’re seeing some additional pressures but we’ve been able to meet those demand through internal staffing and some supplementary staffing as well,” Lakeland Regional Health Chief Human Resources Director Scott Dimmick said.

Dimmick said the hospital is trying to hire more nurses.

“As we look at increased volume throughout the end of the year, it’s probably adding about 150 nurses preparing for the busy season in December and January,” he said.

Lakeland Regional Health holds “Walk-in Wednesday” job fair events every week from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Mulaney Auditorium lobby inside the Carol Jenkins Barnett Pavilion for Women and Children.

The hiring event includes nurses, other medical positions and non-medical opportunities.

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