Nursing shortage reaches critical stage

Economic incentives may not help much
Published: Nov. 19, 2020 at 6:35 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - When Arizona’s coronavirus cases spiked in July, it was one of three states that surged along with Florida and Texas.

Arizona desperately needed nurses and doctors to handle the cases. Since the virus was not widespread nationwide, the help parachuted in and the crisis was averted.

That’s not going to happen in this surge.

“We have 47, 48, 49 states all in the red or orange in terms of the surge,” said Dr. Matt Heinz, a Tucson hospitalist. “So we aren’t going to get a lot of reinforcement potential from outside sources.”

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey acknowledged the issue during a press briefing on Nov. 18th, his first briefing in weeks.

“Today, I’m directing $25 million to boost and support staffing in our hospitals,” he said. “Those dollars can pay for higher staff costs due to the demand.”

While the dollars can be used to pay nurses and staff more, it can’t find more bodies which are in short supply nationwide.

In a written statement, Banner Hospital said it welcomed the money from the Governor but “demand is high for these skilled workers as the entire country experiences uncontrollable spread of COVID-19, so we anticipate that it will be challenging to secure enough workers to meet the needs of our Arizona surge should these trends continue.”

Hospitals are already offering financial incentives to nurses and staff to work extra shifts.

“My colleagues are being offered double time, double time plus more on top of that per hour,” Dr. Heinz said. “That doesn’t necessarily sway them.”

They’re being offered the incentives to work extra shifts on top of the three, 12-hour days already scheduled. Those 12-hour days frequently stretch to 14 or 15 hour days because there are so many cases. The nurses are asked to work one or two more shifts a week, sometimes back to back.

So it’s not the money.

“It’s the physical stress and strain,” he said. “It’s the emotional stress and strain.”

Dr. Heinz says the health care workers themselves are at threat of becoming sick themselves.

“And then we’re in a real pickle because the people who have the skills to get people through this as patients, are becoming patients themselves,” Dr. Heinz said.

Health professionals are urging everyone to wear masks to slow down the surge in order to accommodate the staff shortage.

But there are some things they just can’t control.

“In particular this patient, to the very last moment... he could utter anything, saying this was a hoax. ‘I’m sick with something, I don’t know what it is, but it’s not what they say. It is cause there is no virus,’ and then we had to sedate him and put a plastic straw in his throat to help him breathe,” Dr. Heinz said.

The patient survived.

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