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North Texas Hospitals Cope With Ongoing Nursing Shortages While Fighting COVID-19

Nurses in Personal Protective Clothing Assist Patient .jpg
Parkland Health & Hospital System
Parkland Health & Hospital System
Nurses assist a patient in a COVID-19 unit at Parkland Memorial Hospital.

Texas has had a shortage of nurses for years. But the current surge in COVID-19 cases has made matters worse: It’s forced a number of nurses to leave, and there aren't enough people — especially in critical care — among the so-called traveling, or temporary, nurses that hospitals rely on to fill in the gap.

KERA's Sam Baker talked about this with W. Stephen Love, President and CEO of the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council.


Handling The Shortage

We're trying to makeshift and bring in people; closing areas that are doing procedures you can postpone and bring those nursing people in.

But you still have to match the skill set. Someone who's been working in an outpatient surgery arena may not be trained to handle a COVID patient.

Pay And Competition

Some of these traveling nurse firms are paying high rates. What we’ve had to deal with has almost been like price gouging.

Some people are leaving hospitals throughout the nation to join these traveling nurses because they get paid so much more.

That's why we're trying to ensure that the traveling nurses given to North Texas and Texas are coming from out of state. We don’t want to steal from Houston. And we don't want El Paso stealing from us.

Can Hospitals Afford To Pay What Nurses Are Asking?

Sometimes they have to, because of the COVID-19, but they can't do it long-term.

You get outside of Dallas, Tarrant, Collin and Denton counties and you’re getting into some rural areas that have excellent community hospitals. But these exorbitant prices are really problematic on their (profit) margins. They're already stretched thin as it is.

Could The Nursing Shortage Affect Patient Care?

You look at staffing ratios and how much staff do you have per patient, and we're going to do everything we can that we don't sacrifice patient care in any way.

And that's why we're saying we're almost at capacity, even though we may be at 96% of the beds. If we don't have the staff, we're not going to put this into a patient safety situation.

Nurse with Texas Health Resources in P.P.E.
Texas Health Resources
Texas Health Resources
A nurse at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth adjusts her hair behind a face shield as she dons PPE before caring for a COVID-19 patient in an I.C.U.

COVID’s Impact On Nurses

We've had some longtime nurses that have just said, “You know, I'm gonna change professions. I'm gonna retire.”

You have to look at the traumatic experience they've been through for 18 months. They've dealt with people where they had to wear PPE.

They had a lot of patients die from COVID. They had to console family, people — many times virtually — on the death of a loved one. That takes a toll and it wears on people and they just get totally fatigued and tired.

They also get frustrated when they hear people say, “Well, I'm not going to wear a mask and I'm not going to get a vaccine,” because most of the people we're treating right now in our hospitals have not been vaccinated. It could have been so easily prevented.

So How Do You Keep The Nursing Staff Engaged?

Our clinical team management and our human resource people do an excellent job of trying to give them time away from the COVID unit, as much as they can.

They certainly try to work with them from how do we keep your spirits up? What can we do to improve the overall clinical morale of having to deal with so many sick patients?

They try a little bit of everything because they want to keep the staff as upbeat as possible. And you want to keep staff healthy.


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Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.