COLUMBUS, Ohio — Since the pandemic began, nurses have been on the front lines putting their own lives at risk by caring for the sick and holding the hands of those dying from COVID-19.
“We were pushed to the brink before COVID and then when COVID hit and our patients become sicker, and the volume became greater and there were more patients that needed care who didn't get care to begin with, nurses started to fall from the bedside,” said Regina Miller, a registered nurse in Columbus.
Miller says she joined the profession in part because her mom was a nurse.
She doesn't blame those who leave the bedside to work somewhere else.
“The bedside is very challenging mentally. It's very challenging physically. A lot of weekends, a lot of nights, a lot of grueling conditions, and there's a lot of people who just don't want to subject themselves to that anymore," she said.
Every hospital in the state is looking for nurses.
“Many nurses are leaving a position,” said Allie Goins, who is the director of nursing at Adena Health Systems.
Her hospital has 76 nurse openings.
“That's higher than we've experienced before for sure,” she said.
Goins says the stress on her staff is noticeable.
“I've heard time and time again, 'I just hate watching somebody be so sick and being terrified and not knowing what is coming next or maybe thinking of what's coming next and it's not good',” she said.
At Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, there are more 400 nurse openings.
A spokesperson for the hospital tells 10TV:
“The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center is not immune to the nationwide shortage in nursing. In the last fiscal year ending June 30th, our turnover rate was 10%, while the national turnover average varied between 8.8 and 37% depending on location and specialty. We had a net gain of more than 150 experienced, highly-skilled nurses.”
Rick Lucas is the president of the Ohio State University Nursing Organization.
“We weren't prepared in any way for what we've endured for the last two years," he said. "It feels like in the years leading up to the pandemic that too much emphasis has been on the financial performance of the hospital in generating revenue and money and not staffing and providing the best staffing that we could."
And with fewer nurses on the job, hospitals are having to pay large chunks of overtime to keep them on the floor.
At Licking Memorial Hospital, overtime pay has skyrocketed.
Since March 2018, nursing overtime rose more than 48% from $395,000 to $810,000 by March 2021.
Ohio State Wexner Medical Center paid more than $22,000 in nursing overtime from March 2018 to March 2019. The hospital then paid $19,000 less in nursing overtime from March 2020 to March 2021.
Those figures don’t include what’s called incentive pay.
A spokesman for the Wexner Medical Center said incentive pay is, “if you pick up a four-hour OT shift, above your regular 40 hours, you get overtime and an incentive amount.”
Cheryl Hollyfield is an oncology registered nurse in Columbus.
“I feel like nursing is losing a lot of its humanity because of the crisis that we are in due to our shortages,” she said.
Hollyfield tells 10TV a year ago there were 13 nurses on her floor.
Hollyfield: We only have nine nurses most days so we are four nurses short where we used to be a year ago.
Kevin Landers: Do you feel like you are closer to burnout now than you've ever been?
She says she's being pulled in so many different directions that she no longer has the time to sit and talk to her patients.
“We were so short-staffed on my unit that I was the unit clerk, I was the charge nurse, and a staff nurse with a five-patient assignment. Actually, that's not uncommon that's common for that to happen,” Hollyfield said.
She recalled one patient whose cancer results she wanted to share with her.
“And she was very tearful, she had no family there and she wanted to share that with me, but my phone kept ringing because I'm trying to be three people,” she said.
Hollyfield says those challenges require compensation, and nurses aren't getting it.
“We've not got one bonus, we've not got anything nothing that's where they break you. Do they see us?” she said.
A positive note on the nursing front is that Ohio State Wexner Medical Center announced it would be giving bonuses starting in November.
The medical center is also implementing a multi-year retention program, where staff members will receive up to $6,000 through April 2023.
The Ohio State University College Of Nursing is seeing more people who want to be nurses.
The school averages 350 nursing applications a year and it received 500 applications this year.
“We had more applications to our program than we've ever had before,” said Cindy Anderson, who is the senior associate dean For academic affairs at the College of Nursing.
However, there's a downside to that as well.
“We are limited in the number of students we can accept. That's a real tragedy for us we have a significant nursing shortage,” Anderson said.
Across the country, colleges and universities are also struggling to find those to teach future nurses.
"There is a national shortage for nursing faculty,” said Anderson.
Meanwhile, nurses who are still working wonder how much longer they can continue their mission of helping patients as the stress of the profession, they say, gets heavier by the day.
“I've been a nurse for 12 years and I've never felt this way before, “ says Hollyfield.