Triangle nurse burnout compounded by staff shortages; mandatory vaccine deadlines draw closer

Wake County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Hospitals in the Triangle are doing all they can to recruit and retain staff during skyrocketing COVID-19 hospitalizations, but there is a concern upcoming vaccine deadlines might make ongoing shortages worse.

The CEO of the North Carolina Association of Nurses, Tina Gordon, said while a nursing shortage is not new, the most recent surge in delta COVID-19 cases is taking an even harder toll on the nurses that have stayed in health care.

“Nurses are just exhausted,” Gordon said. “They are very fatigued and the patient load is sort of a no-end-in-sight situation.”

Hospitals are seeing that stress in trying to fill schedules. At the end of July, the UNC Health system said they were looking for more than 800 nurses.

“That’s sort of why we’re short to begin with,” Dr. Linda Butler, chief medical officer at UNC REX Healthcare, said during a press conference this week. “There was burnout before the pandemic and then the stresses of taking care of patients under these abnormal conditions.”

While multiple hospital leaders spoke this week about tight capacity during the most recent surge in COVID-19 cases, Butler said a number of employees have filed for exemptions concerning the Sept. 21 vaccination deadline.

“There’s a concern that even having a vaccine mandate at the end of September will have some staff choose to leave health care because they don’t want to be vaccinated,” Butler said.

Duke Health and WakeMed are also requiring vaccines for employees.

WakeMed’s Chief Physician Executive Dr. Seth Brody said while they don’t want to lose any frontline workers, the vaccine mandates are a necessary step to protect everyone in the hospital.

“The vaccine mandate is there to protect our patients, protect our colleagues, to protect each other, to protect the community,” Brody said.

The nurses association said it’s hard to predict just how much the mandates will impact hospitals.

“It’s really hard to know because we haven’t been in this kind of situation before,” Gordon said. “But we have been situations where there have been a variety of employer-based requirements for nurses to comply with so that in and of itself is not new.”

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