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Healthcare worker shortage could become worse as delta variant surges

Dr. Nelson tells WWL he hasn't seen anything like this since the HIV epidemic.

NEW ORLEANS — There are six thousand nursing positions open in Louisiana today and health experts warn that number could go up.

"As the numbers increase, the more and more people are admitted to the hospital, and some of them to the ICU, the shortage will only get worse," said Dr. Steve Nelson, LSU HSC Medical School Dean.

An ongoing shortage of health care workers has been made even worse by the pandemic, leaving many facilities short-staffed.

"They are exhausted, physically exhausted, emotionally exhausted and in many cases, they are working short-handed," said Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards at a coronavirus briefing on Friday.

Louisiana is now one of the top states with the highest number of new coronavirus cases.

Dr. Nelson says the nurse shortage is not new...but the COVID-19 pandemic has made it much worse.

"Taking care of really ill patients day after day after shift after shift wears on you and there's a great deal of burnout out there right now," said Michelle Collins, Loyola College of Nursing Professor and Dean.

But, burnout is not the only reason the supply of medical professionals is drying up. Dr. Nelson also points to high demand and low pay.

"Many of the people who otherwise would maybe serve in the hospitals here are serving as travel nurses and doctors even local attendants because they can make three times the amount of money," Dr. Nelson said.

Though there is some hesitancy to join the medical field, Collins says nursing applications across the nation are up!

"Unfortunately, there's such a shortage it will take a lot to fill those shortages," Collins said.

From nursing to paramedics to ICU doctors the emotional toll from the coronavirus pandemic has led to a stretch in staffing, unlike anything health experts have seen in years.

Dr. Nelson tells WWL he hasn't seen anything like this since the HIV epidemic.

"This is that maybe a thousand times amplified," Dr. Nelson said.

This is not the first time the state has grappled with a health care worker shortage. In July 2020, Gov. Edwards requested almost 700 health care workers from FEMA to combat the shortage due to the rising COVID-19 case numbers.

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