Flooded hospitals are scrambling for pandemic help

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) – U.S. hospitals have hit nurses and doctors with retirement COVID-19 patients, recruiting students and new graduates who have not yet obtained their licenses, and offering eye-catching salaries with their desperate offer to alleviate staff shortages.

As the virus spreads from coast to coast, the number of patients in a viral hospital has more than doubled in the past month, to a record high of nearly 100,000, pushing health centers and health workers to break points. Nurses are increasingly burning out and falling ill in the workplace, and the strain on the nation’s medical system has triggered a severe warning from the head of the Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

“The reality is December, January and February will be rough times. In fact, I think it will be the most difficult period in the nation’s public health history, ”Dr. Robert Redfield said.

Governors in severely affected states like Wisconsin and Nebraska are making it easier for retired nurses to return, including by waiving licensing requirements and fees, though this can be a difficult sale for older nurses who are more at risk than many. colleagues if they have infected the virus.

Some are taking jobs that don’t involve working directly with patients to free up cutting-edge nurses, McMillan said.

Iowa grants temporary, emergency licenses to new nurses who have met the state’s educational requirements but have not yet done so. Some hospitals in Minnesota offer winter internships to nursing students to increase their numbers. Internships are usually offered in the summer, but were canceled this year due to COVID-19.

At the Methodist Hospital in Minneapolis, 25 trainees will be placed for a month or two to work with COVID-19 patients, although certain tasks remain unlimited, such as inserting IVs or urinary catheters, said Tina Kvalheim, the nurse who cares for the program.

“They fully support them in their roles so that our patients receive the best possible, safe care,” Kvalheim said.

Landon Brown, 21, of Des Moines, Iowa, a senior nurse student at Minnesota State University (Mankato), recently undertook an internship in the Health System at the Mayo Clinic in Mananco. He was assigned to the pediatrician’s medical and surgical field, but said he could meet with patients with coronavirus.

Brown’s determination to help patients as a nurse was confirmed after her 90-year-old grandfather infected the virus and died over the weekend.

“The staff was great and they really put a lot of pressure on my people and my family,” he said. “I think if I could be with another family, that would be great.”

The University of Iowa College of Nursing also strives to employ graduates quickly. This worked by speeding up the processing of students ’transcripts to the Iowa Nursing Council so they could get their license sooner after graduation, said Anita Nicholson, dean of university programs.

Nicholson said the college also designed older-than-usual internships and created a program that allows students to gain hospital experience under the supervision of a nurse. Those students don’t deal with coronavirus patients, but their work frees nurses, ”Nicholson said.

“The sooner we can get our degrees out of the workforce, the better,” he said.

Wausau-based Wausau Aspirus Health Care offers sign-up bonuses of up to $ 15,000 to nurses with years of experience.

Hospitals also turn to nurses traveling from state to state. But it’s expensive because hospitals across the country compete for them and run $ 6,200 a week in salaries according to the tasks assigned to travel nursing jobs.

April Hansen, executive vice president of San Diego-based Aya Healthcare, said there are now 31,000 hours open to nurses, more than double the boom in the spring pandemic.

“It’s crazy,” Hansen said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re rural or urban, an Indian health institution or academic medical center or anything in between. … currently all facilities are showing increased demand. “

Nurses working in intensive care and medical-surgical floors are most sought after. Employers are also willing to pay for nurses who show up soon and can work 48 or 60 hours a week instead of the usual 36.

Laura Cutolo, a 32-year-old emergency department and intensive care nurse from Gilbert, Arizona, began traveling nursing at the start of the epidemic and landed in New York last spring during the deadliest phase of the U.S. epidemic. He now works in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and will soon return to New York.

He said he hopes his work will set an example for his children, who are now between 2 and 5 years old, when the crisis goes down in history and they read about it once.

“If they ask me, ‘Where have you been?’ “I can be proud of where I was and what I did,” Cutolo said.

Doctors were also sought after.

“I’m not even practicing anymore, and I’ve received plenty of emails urging me to travel across the country to work in the ER,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

In the United States, the outbreak is caused by more than 270,000 deaths and 13.8 million confirmed infections. New cases average more than 160,000 a day, and the number of deaths exceeds 1,500 a day, which is in May, during the New York crisis. Several states reported a huge number of new cases on Wednesday, including a total of 40,000 people in California, Illinois and Florida alone.

There are record deaths in the states, including Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky in the middle of the country. Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear says the virus is “spreading like wildfire”.

The COVID-19 vaccine is expected to become available in a few weeks, and healthcare workers are likely to take precedence over first admissions. This can make it easier for hospitals to provide assistance.

To provide accommodation for the sickest, the most severely affected institutions are sending home some COVID-19 patients who would otherwise have been hospitalized. Optional surgeries are canceled or adult, non-COVID-19 patients are sent to pediatric hospitals.

The Idaho hospital system is sending some COVID-19 patients home with iPads, supplemental oxygen, blood pressure cuffs and oxygen monitors to complete recovery in their own beds. Computer tablets allow nurses to log in to them, and oxygen monitors automatically return vital information.

Across the United States, hospitals are converting cafes, waiting rooms, and even a parking garage into treatment facilities. Some states are opening field hospitals.

But this will not help alleviate staff shortages, especially in rural areas, where officials say many are not taking basic precautions against the virus.

Dr. Eli Perencevich, a professor of epidemiology and internal medicine at the University of Iowa, says healthcare workers pay the price because others are unwilling to wear a mask.

“It sends everyone to war, really,” he said. “As a society, we decided to take the whole person into our healthcare system and toss them up because we have a crazy idea of ​​what freedom really is.”


Forliti reported from Minneapolis. Associated Press Writers, Tammy Webber, Fenton, Michigan; Heather Hollingsworth on a mission to Kansas; Brian Witte in Annapolis, Maryland; John O’Connor in Springfield, Illinois; and Ken Kusmer of Indianapolis contributed to this story.


Follow Grant Schulte on Twitter: https://twitter.com/GrantSchulte