Nurse shortage has Nebraska hospitals in crisis mode

Great Plains Health officials speak out
Published: Nov. 8, 2020 at 11:53 PM CST
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NORTH PLATTE, Neb. (KNOP) - It took months for the West Central District Health Department to report more than three cases of COVID-19 in Lincoln County and the surrounding counties that make up the health district. Then it took weeks to reach 100 cases, and then days to reach hundreds. There are now more active cases of COVID-19 in the WCDHD than there are reported recoveries.

It is popular opinion and no surprise that people would like to see COVID-19 go away. Having things go back to normal seems to be collective desire. Experts in handling the virus say it is not going away any time soon. They are also begging people to take COVID-19 seriously, saying now is not the time to give up all of the important things we can be doing to make it stop - or at least slow down long enough to let our hospitals and nursing staff and health departments and government agencies managing it all - to take a breath and regroup.

COVID-19 holding on. Nursing staff shortage is at crisis level.
COVID-19 holding on. Nursing staff shortage is at crisis level. (WBRC)

So it is fair to say, we are all sick of it and sick of hearing about it. We are sick of our friends and family getting sick and dying. We are sick of not being able to hug our loved ones or even see our elderly family members. We are sick of being scared of it and inconvenienced by it. And since being sick of it will not end it, maybe being sick of it will guide us to do something we can do about it.

Experts say “doing something about it” means (yes we’ve all heard this) wearing masks, social distancing, and washing your hands. People seem to want a more difficult itinerary to solve this. But experts keep saying the same thing (I’ll repeat) wear your mask, social distance, wash your hands. And, you still might get it, yes. But these are the things we can do to help.

Great Plains Health is sick of COVID-19 too. They are sick of people not doing what they can to “slow the spread.” CEO of Great Plains Health Mel McNea even admits many of the nurses who cannot care for patients right now have the virus too. He said that they are community members too, and while they are in full personal protective equipment (PPE) while at the hospital, they may not always follow all of the safety measures when they are out in the community. And even if they do, they are at risk too when they go out and about.

And so the crisis for Great Plains Health and all the hospitals across the state are facing a real crisis. They have plenty of beds, doctors, PPE, and ventilators. What they do not have enough of is nurses.

All across the state hospitals simply do not have enough nurses to keep up with the rise in patients needing care. McNea said the community should be very proud of the nurses we have. But he says they are exhausted. With no end in sight for the pandemic, and Nebraska seeing a continued spike in COVID-19 cases, it’s “a serious situation.”

McNea says there are many variables to maximum capacity, including available beds and ventilators, and the number of doctors. He said none of those are an issue right now.

As of Friday there were 20 COVID-19 patients at Great Plains Health, and due to the number of nures available right now, they are at maximum virus capacity. McNea said that as is nurses are treating for patients per nurse that the hospital prefers. Usually one nurse per one to two patients is now one nurse to 3-4 patients.

McNea explained that twenty-five percent of nurses have decided they do not want to treat COVID-19 patients, working in environments which are less precarious, such as a clinic. He said the problem is not just a local one, or even a Nebraska one. It is a nationwide problem.

But he said there is no availablility for agency staff right now, plus entering the holiday season. He believes this trend will continue.

McNea announced the hospital planning a campaign to find nurses in different ways, such as reaching out to retired nurses who have not practiced for a couple of years, asking them to reconsider and maybe offer a couple days of service. He hopes to get nurses who have gone into other careers to come back into nursing care.

McNea explained the state has set up a statewide hotline.

McNea stressed that all hospitals are struggling to meet the demands of their communities. He expects the number of hospitalizations to reach over 1000 in the state by the end of November.

McNea said we must protect ourselves and really take all of this seriously. And so, again - mask wearing, social distancing, and good hygiene, (for all of us).

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