NC health care systems need to fill hundreds of nurse vacancies amid shortage

Coronavirus

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — Hospitals across North Carolina are looking for nurses to fill vacancies.

This comes amid an ongoing shortage and rising COVID case numbers.

“A lot of people have left over the last year and a half and are leaving now because of the stress and burnout,” said Jim Davis, CarolinaEast’s chief nursing officer.

It’s a shortage sweeping the nation. It’s hitting close to home in Eastern North Carolina.

“The pandemic has been really hard on everyone,” said Davis. “People that work in healthcare are also experiencing those stresses outside of work and so they’re looking for opportunities that may not be as stressful.”

Davis said it’s affecting his hospital. CarolinaEast has 58 nursing vacancies.

“One of our nurses that had been here almost 48 years, she said I was going to stay until 50 years, but I can’t do it,” he said. “Not with COVID.”

Many younger nurses are also choosing to get out of the field.

“Younger nurses have left to stay home with their children because they have kids at home they’re trying to school,” said Davis.

Davis said CarolinaEast is offering incentives for nurses to pick up the extra shifts.

“We do entice nurses to pick up extra shifts by paying an incentive for that,” he said. “We do have a sign on bonus for nurses coming to the hospital.”

Davis is also working to boost morale to keep his employees around.

“We have food trucks outside the hospital, to doing different celebrations to Saturday morning I came around the hospital on different units and gave out goodies,” he said.

With the delta variant on the rise, Davis said CarolinaEast has seen an increase in hospitalizations. He said his team can handle whatever is thrown at them, but he hopes things will calm down soon.

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Duke Health is recruiting right now for around 700 nursing positions to accommodate expansions and anticipated turnover.

Meanwhile, UNC Health says they’re looking for more than 800 nurses as demand skyrockets.

“Within our health care system, all of our hospitals, it’s probably our number one topic of conversation,” UNC chief nurse executive Cathy Madigan said.

It’s a top concern for major and small hospitals alike, making sure they have the nursing staff to care for even more returning patients in need.

Many patients may have been deterred to come to hospitals this time last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would have to say that seems to be something that people have gotten over because most of our hospitals now are very busy, so you’ve got the COVID population but you also have the non-COVID population,” Madigan said.

To care for everyone, Dennis Taylor, president of the North Carolina Nurses Association, said nurses are stretched thin in health systems across the state, often working more cases than average.

“Instead of having the patients that we are typically accustomed to taking care of in one area, we now have to go to lots of different areas and see those patients,” Taylor said.

To bring nurses in and keep staff, UNC Hospitals in the Triangle just gave $3 raises.

They’re also offering up to $25,000 in loan forgiveness and up to $10,000 for relocation.

“I like to feel like we have a playbook that we use within our system and different places can use different pieces depending on what they need,” Madigan said.

But as for a long-term fix, Taylor said it will have to come from universities to recruit teachers and students to build up the next generation of nurses.

“Many schools are not even filling the numbers that they’re approved to have in their system because they don’t have the instructors there to be able to teach the students,” Taylor said.

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