‘Our nurses are tired’: Nearly 15,000 RN positions open in NC as nurses overwhelmed and hospitals near capacity limits

North Carolina

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — Nurses continue the fight against COVID-19 in North Carolina while also facing a staffing shortage.

Right now, close to 15,000 registered nursing positions are available in the state and close to 5,500 job openings for nursing assistants and licensed practical nurses are now posted on ncworks.gov.

Hospitals in Eastern North Carolina are struggling to find workers, as they continue to right the coronavirus. It’s putting added stress on current employees.

“It’s not good timing to be in the middle of a pandemic and also have a workforce shortage,” said Jim Davis, chief nursing officer at CarolinaEast Medical Center. “Our nurses are stressed right now. They’re working hard. They’re working extra hours.”

There are currently 50 COVID-positive patients at CarolinaEast. Davis said his nurses are tires, and some even fed up.

“They thought we were through this,” said Davis. “We saw our numbers go down. We were down to two or three patients for a while, for quite a while, for almost a month. And to see it back where we were last January is frustrating.”

CarolinaEast currently has more than 50 open nursing positions. Davis said COVID is to blame. He also said universities are seeing fewer students interested in entering the nursing field.

“I think there’s probably some people that were interested in nursing because they got to see nurses as heroes for the last year and a half and some that were probably scared away from it for the same reason,” he said.

Doctor Gerry Farris is a North Carolina ER doctor who says nurses are overwhelmed and hospitals are nearing capacity limits.

“I’m tired. I’m just like everybody else. I’m tired,” Farris said. “We’re doing all we can, you know, we’re trying to open up extra beds or offering additional pay for people there. I’m certainly very much an advocate of people doing what needs to be done to try to solve the problem. We’re just running out of resources.”

Farris has been working at Valdese Emergency Room for the last three days. He says 80 percent of patients coming in to get tested for COVID end up positive and are unvaccinated.

“I don’t think the public realizes every day we come in, and we put our lives on the line for the public and we’re getting abused by people. We’re getting yelled at by people, we’re getting assaulted by people this is unacceptable,” Farris said.

For more than 25 years Meka Douthit El has been a nurse. She’s the president-elect of the North Carolina Nurses Association.

“The new nurses coming in the pipeline, you can’t take in as many, then those coming in the training has not been the same, because they’ve been challenged trying to get into the settings where you have COVID,” El explained.

A National Health Care Retention Report and RN Staffing Report show hospitals and nursing staff turnovers are at an all-time high, with a turnover rate for all staff RNs at 18.7 percent last year.

“We’re open to anything, but you have to think when a new nurse comes on, you know, depending on the clinical specialty,” El said. “They could need up to 20 more weeks of orientation. So you have nurses that are working to take care of the patients, and trying to orient so that we have a future.”

The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 7% growth of registered nurses in the next eight years as people suffer chronic conditions like diabetes and obesity. Meanwhile, some nurses say they are skeptical about people getting into the business.

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