NEW ORLEANS — As Louisiana hospitals are adjusting their response and protocols to the latest surge of COVID-19 cases, many are also facing a critical shortage of nurses.
There are some local efforts to push back on a continuing tide of nurses leaving the profession.
Like countless hospitals in the state and throughout the country, East Jefferson General needs more nurses. The hospital’s chief nursing officer’s wish list includes 100 extra nurses.
“There was a nursing shortage before we had this surge, so it does stretch our resources,” Ruby Brewer said. “Our priority is to provide care to the community. So, we look every day at how we can do that, how we can stretch our resources.”
Before COVID, the Louisiana Hospital Association predicted the nursing shortage would quadruple by 2025. A lack of nursing educators has also been cited as a contributing factor in the overall shortage of nurses.
The pandemic is further stretching resources in a field already filled with stress. Brewer says many nurses have had to pick up extra shifts throughout these multiple waves of COVID.
“When you do that for a prolonged period of time they get tired and we try to make sure we don’t over tax them,” Brewer said.
At a time when health professionals are desperately needed, this prolonged pandemic is hitting nurses hard.
“So many of them have had compassion burnout and have had to leave, or maybe they had to leave because they were sick themselves with COVID or had to take care of family members who were ill or dying,” Michelle Collins said. “One of the ways we’re going to combat this shortage is to come up with creative ways to draw people into the profession.”
Collins is dean at the College of Nursing and Health at Loyola University. It’s partnering with Ochsner Health System to attract more nursing students through a scholarship program with incentives like tuition reimbursement and job placement. The school now has 50 freshmen enrolled this fall in its first ever, full time bachelor’s program for nursing.
“We were not expecting that many, so the response to it has been excellent,” Collins said.
At more established nursing programs, like the one at LSU Health, there is another positive sign: They haven’t seen a drop in enrollment. Kendra Barrier is the associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion at School of Nursing at LSU Health. Barrier says while some nurses are leaving the industry, many are still committed.
“We are trusted, we are loving, we are caring. So, for the nurses that are really passionate about nursing, they will stay, and they will do whatever they can to care for patients. We need more of them,” Barrier said.
Even after the pandemic, that need will remain.