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Surge in infections among unvaccinated highlighting nurse shortage issues

Monica Quintana
Posted at 3:51 PM, Aug 12, 2021

The surge in COVID-19 infections among unvaccinated people is again highlighting a big problem in hospitals nationwide: the lack of nurses.

Some states are seeing the most people hospitalized now than at any point in the pandemic and it's leading to burnout. Or, as the president of National Nurses United calls it, moral distress.

“Because we're trying to do our job and employers and sad to say sometimes government agencies don't help us do that, that puts patients in peril. It puts us at risk,” said Jean Ross, President of National Nurses United.

Many nurses have quit amid the pandemic because of working conditions. Even before that, 30% cited burnout as the reason they left health care in 2017, according to a recent study in the journal Health Policy.

Ross says she'd like to see federal legislation that requires mandatory staffing ratios like in California. It's the only state that specifies the number of nurses needed for the number of patients in each hospital.

More nursing education outreach is something the Emergency Nurses Association says could also help.

“It's a multi-prong, multi-approach that you need to be, I mean starting from getting people from high school into college that go into nursing programs. We're working with universities and, you know, something the Emergency Nurses Association is doing is working to help departments create a very healthy work environment, so we can work with hospitals too to create a place that you feel safe at,” said Ron Kraus, President of the Emergency Nurses Association.

As nursing organizations push for these changes, the general public can do their part in lifting the burden on nurses by getting vaccinated. In a poll this week, The Associated Press found 70% of Americans trust nurses.

“We keep telling people if you trust us as you say you do, you know, listen. Listen to what we say. Vaccination helps,” said Ross.

“This is the middle of a global pandemic, something that we have not lived through, any of us in this lifetime, and hope we don't have to do it again,” said Kraus.