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Health Team

Triangle hospitals see shortage of nurses as COVID hospitalizations rise

Posted July 26, 2021 4:36 p.m. EDT
Updated July 26, 2021 11:07 p.m. EDT

— Two major hospital networks in the Triangle are facing a shortage of nurses as COVID-19 hospitalizations tick upward.

The Duke University Health System needs around 700 nurses to "accommodate both projected turnover and projected expansion projects that will result in additional beds," according to Mary Ann Fuchs, the vice president of patient care and system chief nurse executive for Duke Health.

Duke Health officials claim that this shortage is not related to the recent requirement of COVID-19 vaccinations among staff.

"Most of our staff members have already been vaccinated, and we are confident that the remainder will comply with the new requirement," said Thomas Owens, senior vice president of Duke Health.

After a period of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations declining in the state, hospitalizations are inching back up. Nearly 950 people are hospitalized, which is more than double the number from just two weeks ago. Health officials attribute this rise in cases to the rapidly spreading Delta variant.

Cathy Madigan, chief nursing executive with UNC Health, says they have been expecting this.

“We have been predicting the nursing shortage -- we have been planning for the nursing shortage," she said. “Our need is going up but most schools of nursing are not increasing yet — because it costs money — all of their enrollment.”

One reason that there are fewer nurses in the workforce right now is due to pandemic fatigue.

Crystal Tillman, CEO of the North Carolina Board of Nursing, told WRAL News in December that working under the strain has led to some newer nurses leaving the profession altogether.

“New grads are coming in ... it’s hard enough, but in a pandemic, a lot of them are beginning to leave," she said.

Another factor is a shortage of nursing educators. Tillman said there aren't many people going on to get a master's degree in education.

UNC Health has more than 800 vacant nursing positions across the state.

“This is certainly the highest I have seen in a long time — maybe ever," Madigan said.

In Cumberland County, Cape Fear Valley Medical Center is experiencing "shortages across the board" in its nursing department.

The hospital are aggressively working to hire nurses, both part-time and full-time, health officials said.

Monica Rabello is celebrating her graduation from the practical nursing program at Robeson County Community College.

“One day at a time. July 21 will come," she said. “We have a lot of students, not just myself, that even left our preceptorship with a job offer.”

Her offer came from Cape Fear Valley Medical Center in Fayetteville - where the hospital system says, “We are seeing shortages across the board in nursing, we are aggressively working to hire for full-time, part-time, and per diem nurses.

To try and find more people to fill the positions, Duke Nursing is holding a virtual hiring event on Aug. 4.

“A lot of nurses — young graduates — do come out of school with owning money for their tuition," Madigan said. "We help with that."

Rabello plans to take advantage of tuition assistance at Cape Fear to one day become a registered nurse.

“I am so ready. I am so ready to get out there and start working," she said.

UNC Health is hosting the following virtual hiring events:

July 28 - Medical Assistant, Certified & Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) positions

Aug. 26 - Experience registered nurse positions.

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