Louisville hospitals worry that shortage of nurses, worsened by the pandemic, will damage how they care for patients for years

Colleagues care for Becky Fulks, a nurse at University of Louisville Hospital nurse who nearly died from Covid-19 though she was vaccinated. Only 15% of Covid patients in hospitals are vaccinated.

The national shortage of nurses – and Kentucky’s shortage, specifically – were the subject of a story on CBS‘s “60 Minutes” Sunday night.
The loss of so many nurses in the pandemic, and the too-small pipeline to replace them, has left Louisville hospitals fearing that their operations will feel the lingering effects of Covid-19 for years.
“We’re gonna have to rethink how we care for individuals in the hospital moving forward,” said Dr. Jason Smith, chief medical officer of University of Louisville Hospital. Asked if the system is at the breaking point, he said, “That’s the biggest worry I have: Are we gonna have a system that we can’t support after this pandemic is over?”
Later, near the end of the 13-minute report by Sharyn Alfonsi, Smith said the personnel shortage will affect the hospital system for two to 10 years. “What we’re seeing now in the pandemic may become an everyday occurrence and that’s not something we can sustain for decades.”
CBS reported that 1,700 qualified applicants to nursing programs in Kentucky last year were turned away “for lack of teachers.” Smith said, “On average, it takes four to five years to train a nurse.” He said he has seen nurses who have worked for 25 to 35 years quit because of the pressure of the pandemic.
One nurse who said she had seen colleagues quit said she tries to bring “positive energy” to her work, but “It’s getting more difficult each day.” At the time of the interview, when the Omicron-variant surge was still building, she said the U of L emergency room had fewer nurses than at any point in pandemic: 10 to treat 71 patients.
“We are holding admitted patents in the emergency department for days upon days,” she said. “I feel like everybody is in survival mode. It’s not just the emergency department. I think the whole hospital is.”
Respiratory therapist Amanda Sweeney said she suffers from “compassion fatigue” due to the length of the pandemic, now in its 24th month in Kentucky: “I feel like I gave so much those first nine months and got so close to so many patients that we lost, that now I almost can’t do that. It’s just too much loss, I guess.”
Sweeney said she is frustrated because 85% of Covid-19 patients are unvaccinated. Nurses also have issues with recalcitrant patients, some of whom refuse to believe they have the disease. One said a patient cursed her for 10 minutes, finally pushing her. And to be told that Covid isnt real “feels like a slap in the face,” she said.
CBS noted the Kentucky Nurses Association survey last fall that found a fourth of the state’s nurses were considering leaving the profession in the following three months.
KNA President Deleanor Manson said nursing is 53 percent of the health-care workforce. “There was a nursing shortage prior to the pandemic,” she said. “The pandemic has ripped off the bandage.”
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