More NC hospitals brace for staff shortages during pandemic, federal data show

Coronavirus

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A growing number of hospitals across North Carolina are expecting staff shortages within a week described as critical, according to federal data analyzed Wednesday by CBS17.com.

The dataset released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows 1,132 hospitals across the country say they are currently experiencing a critical staff shortage and 1,334 facilities anticipating such a shortage in the coming seven days. The most recent data from the daily survey results was from Monday.

As COVID-19 continues to surge into the new year, staffing at health care facilities has become a primary concern.

Nearly 1 in 5 hospitals across the state were at least 90 percent full, according to a separate federal data set. Hospitals across North Carolina were 78 percent full Wednesday, with COVID-19 patients accounting for more than 20 percent of those occupied beds.

The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the state has doubled over the past 5 1/2 weeks, with the state Department of Health and Human Services reporting more than 3,000 COVID hospitalizations on each of the past nine days.

Nationally, North Carolina has one of the lowest percentages of hospitals with a current shortage, at 4.3 percent. California, Arizona and North Dakota have the highest percentages, each higher than 40 percent.

But the numbers in our state appear to be trending up.

Over the past week, an average of seven hospitals each day in North Carolina reported that they were dealing with a staffing shortage, and 9.1 expected a shortage in the next seven days.

Both of those figures were slightly higher than they were for the previous week — and nearly twice as high as they were from Dec. 1-7.

The federal dataset does not specify which hospitals have or expect those shortages; they only provide the statewide totals each day from Jan. 1 through Monday.

Dr. Joseph Rogers, the chief medical officer of the Duke University Health System, called the issue of staff shortages “one of our great concerns.

“And as we try to open up additional beds on our campus, to account for this growing number of patients who need hospital-level care, staffing is one of the biggest concerns that we have — and the nursing staff in particular,” Rogers told CBS 17 News.

To address those shortages, more hospitals are turning to traveling nurses — which are brought in on temporary contracts, frequently at higher pay rates.

AYA Healthcare, one of the agencies that recruits and trains those nurses, listed more than 40,000 job postings across the country Wednesday with openings in all 50 states.

There were 553 of those openings listed in North Carolina, with a total of 112 of them in either Raleigh (40), Durham (34), Chapel Hill (23) and Cary (15). Another 20 openings were in Fayetteville. Most of them want those nurses to start as soon as possible.

Cynthia Charles of the North Carolina Healthcare Association said member hospitals continually report that “they are tight on staffing” and that across the country, the demand for traveling nurses is high.

A report from the Kaiser Health Network found that those nurses in some states are making up to $10,000 per week.

“Hospitals willing to pay the current hourly rates for traveling nurses are not finding availability,” Charles said.

UNC Rex Hospital spokesman Alan Wolf previously told CBS 17 News that the hospital had hired 24 of those nurses, and said Wednesday that the Raleigh facility “continues to employ travelers.”

He said so far, UNC Rex has been able to maintain traditional nursing ratios. But as the surge continues the facility “may have to make adjustments” based on factors including patient volume, acuity and staffing levels.

The traveling nurses “have been helpful in supporting patients and providing relief to our frontline nurses as demand for care continues to increase during this pandemic,” Wolf said. “However, they are increasingly in demand at hospitals across the country and harder to find as the surge worsens.”


CBS 17’s Joedy McCreary has been tracking COVID-19 figures since March 2020, compiling data from federal, state and local sources to deliver a clear snapshot of what the coronavirus situation looks like now and what it could look like in the future.


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