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Wiregrass hospitals face nursing shortage

Published: Aug. 5, 2021 at 9:51 PM CDT
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DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) - The nursing field faced a shortage pre-pandemic, but now the issue is being highlighted. The nation is facing a nursing shortage and hospitals in the Wiregrass are becoming overwhelmed with open positions.

Hospital leaders say it has been a combination of obstacles leading to what they are now facing beyond the pandemic.

“They’re tired,” Melissa Owens, Chief Nursing Officer at Southeast Health, said.

This is the fourth COVID-19 surge in positive cases and hospitalizations and health care workers are becoming exhausted.

“Obviously they are still here and they are still in the fight, but they are exhausted, as many of us are,” Owens said.

Adding to the exhaustion, Southeast Health is facing the highest number of open RN positions than ever. The hospital has 140 positions available. Southeast Health tells News 4 they are having to shift staff and resources forcing the hospital to assign staff to areas needed. For example, moving staff from non-COVID designated floors to the COVID floor, resulting in bed closures due to lack the lack of staff.

“Those that remain have to end up picking up extra patients and so it’s very very stressful and it puts a lot of strain on the resources that we have while we’re trying to back fill those positions,” Kelly Hurt, Vice President Chief Human Resources Officer, said.

Southeast Health is not alone. Dale Medical Center is at capacity with COVID patients, while also facing this nursing shortage.

“We cannot find enough nurses,” Vernon Johnson, CEO of Dale Medical Center, said.

Dale Medical Center has about 25 open nursing positions, putting a strain on current employees.

“They are absolutely giving it their all and are such a dedicated workforce and we are thankful for them, but they are getting tired,” Johnson said. “They are weary and of course you can understand them being frustrated because it’s like, ‘What can we do to make this go away?’”

At the start of the pandemic many nurses turned to travel nursing opportunities in more metropolitan areas where the virus rapidly surged.

“Their demands were higher earlier than our demands,” Owens said. “So, a lot of these nurses had already accepted contracts in these facilities and so when our demand started occurring much later, they were already involved in hospitals and other places.”

This made it difficult for rural hospitals to compete with salary.

“We need our nurses to come home, find their homebase and take care of our patients,” Johnson said.

Another component of the nursing shortage, the increase in early retirements and some deciding to leave the field entirely.

At Southeast Health when a position becomes vacant there is up to a 90 day turnaround to fill it.

“Everyone here is exhausted and we very much appreciate and I’m sure the community appreciates the great work that our nurses do in taking care of the people here in the Wiregrass,” Dr. George Narby, Chief Medical Officer at Southeast Health, said.

Southeast Health claims to be actively pursuing every opportunity available to them to fill their open positions, even in the process of bringing in international nurses.

“We have worked with a couple of different agencies that actually help to recruit those individuals and bring them in and their here on contract assignments with the ability to hire them after about a 30 month contract,” Hurt said.

Click here to apply at Southeast Health.

Click here to apply at Dale Medical Center.

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