Fighting for a seat The Texas Nurses Association says there have long been more qualied applicants seeking to become registered nurses than space for them in nursing school programs.
procedures when capacity is so limited, they do not begin turning away patients with necessary care needs as soon as ICU capacity reaches zero, Austin hos- pital systems representatives say. How- ever, they may have to ask sta to take on more work, including tasks not nor- mally in their job description. “All three health care systems are sourcing stausingmultiple resources, increasing shifts, payingcritical stang bonuses and redeploying non-nursing sta to assist with non-clinical tasks,” the hospitals told Community Impact Newspaper in a joint statement. In these circumstances, nurses are made responsible for more patients, said Jenna Laine, a nurse practitioner and a professor for Austin Community College’s mobility nursing program, an accelerated program for students with some pre-existing nursing experience. “Most places I’ve worked, an ICU nurse takes on one to two patients,” Laine said. “There might be places [now] that might be trying to have an ICU nurse work for three patients, and that’s justway toomuch, becausewe’re talking about patients that need to be checked on every ve to 15 minutes.” Many nurses are also being sched- uled to work back-to-back shifts, often while caring for patients facing grim outcomes, Zolnierek said. “Folks are just exhausted,” she said. “There comes a point where [COVID- 19 patients’] chances of survival are very, very low, so nurses are seeing a very high incidence of death. And that makes thework very dicult, because in some ways, it feels hopeless.” Competing for talent As pandemic-relatedburnout causes many nurses to leave the eld, those who remain have options. Many have accepted higher-paying oers from travel nursing agencies supplying sta to overburdened hospitals, Zolnierek
COURTESY AUSTIN COMMUNITY COLLEGE
TRAVIS COUNTY NURSING PROGRAM SUPPLY AND DEMAND
Applicants to registered nursing programs
2017-18 2018-19 2019-20
SOURCES: TEXAS CENTER FOR NURSING WORKFORCE STUDIES, TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF STATE HEALTH SERVICESCOMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER
The open positions equal almost half of the 10,200 registered nurses who worked in the area in that time frame. Cindy Zolnierek, CEO of the Texas Nurses Association, said the nursing shortage is longstanding and complex with roots in compensation disputes and insucient resources in nursing education programs—but 18 months of high-stress work has brought the crisis to a fever pitch. “Frankly, I am very concerned about the nursing workforce,” Zolnierek told Community Impact Newspaper . “There
are nurses who are going to weather it through this crisis, but then they’ll say, ‘I’m done.’ What that will mean— at the same time as we’re struggling bringing new nurses in for a number of reasons—is it’s going to be a very chal- lenging time moving forward.” Staving o burnout Since July, the number of available, staed ICU beds in Austin has uctu- ated between zero and ve, according to Austin Public Health. While hos- pitals may postpone some elective
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The three hospital systems said in July that a pre-existing nursing short- age had worsened as the delta variant sent patients in droves to the hospital. The surge has continued through Sep- tember, and short stang continues to restrict the capacity of already packed intensive care units. According to Texas Workforce Solu- tions, there were 5,172 help wanted ads for registered nurses posted in the Cap- ital Area in the second quarter of 2021.
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