Oklahoma’s nursing shortage worsened by COVID-19

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OKLAHOMA (KFOR) – The pandemic is leaving Oklahoma hospitals and nursing home employees physically and mentally drained.

Those are just some reasons healthcare workers say there aren’t enough nurses to cover every shift.

“We’re seeing more death in a very short amount of time than some people see in an entire career,” said Regional Chief Nursing Officer Elain Richardson with SSM Health Saint Anthony Hospital.

Healthcare providers fear seeing the rise in COVID-19 death cases is causing nurses to check out mentally.
SSM Health, like many Oklahoma hospitals, is facing significant nursing shortages, especially during COVID.

“We have twice as many vacancies for nurses as we have had historically in the past,” said Richardson.

Long-term healthcare facilities are also feeling the impact.

“We’re running and gunning and our nurses and nursing aides are frankly exhausted,” said Don Blouse, CEO of Spanish Cove Retirement Center.

(Getty Images)

The Oklahoma Nurse Association released the following statement to KFOR:

“For decades, Oklahoma has been in the bottom four worst states in the nation for the numbers of nurses per capita.
The nursing shortage has been greatly exacerbated by COVID-19. The long-standing nursing shortage has contributed to Oklahoma’s poor health outcomes and impacts every Oklahoman since nurses cared for patients from the moment of conception through their last breath.”

VICKIE WHITE-RANKIN, OKLAHOMA NURSE ASSOCIATION

“Our staffing – we’ve lost over 200 nurses since January here in Oklahoma, and so that’s critical,” said Jean Hausheer, M.D.

Another shortage factor is traveling nurses. Rankin told KFOR more Oklahoma nurses are filling vacancies across the country. Then, add mental health.

“I worry about the toll on our staff emotionally. I worry about how many more surges we can endure,” said Richardson.

Richardson told KFOR mental health isn’t the only driving force behind the shortage.

Healthcare facilities are juggling to meet their normal workload plus the increase of COVID-infected patients.

“There’s a great deal of emotional toll that COVID has taken on our providers,” said Richardson.

“I’m worried we’ll let them down the residents that we care for,” said Blouse. “That keeps me up at night, knowing their expectations.”

Some nursing homes and hospitals have ramped up incentives to retain nurses by implementing sign-on bonuses and adding more vacation time.

“Our resources are fixed, so trying to find that extra money to be able to compete is a major, major challenge,” said Blouse.

The Oklahoma Nurse Association told KFOR competitive salaries and flexible hours could help retain nurses.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health is planning a virtual job fair to seek more nurses on Wednesday.

Continued Coronavirus Coverage

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