CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The vaccine may have helped most regain a sense of normalcy, but the pandemic has only continued to take a toll on nurses.
“It’s the first time in my career that I've almost seen nurses at the point of mental break,” Meka Douthit El with the North Carolina Nurses Association explains.
In the beginning, nurses served as emotional support for patient after patient, death after death.
“It's like being in war for the past 2 years,” she explains.
After a brief decline, Douthit El says COVID-19 cases are back on the rise, compiling on to their surgical and emergency patients.
“We’re taking patients in, our EDs are backlogged, our ICUs are near capacity, nurses are asked to work a little bit longer to support the needs so they're picking up extra shifts,” she says.
A survey by the North Carolina nurses association found 41% of nurses reported a severe staffing shortage at their facility, and 59% have had to work longer hours.
Douthit El says travel nurses are now being used across the state to fill in gaps.
“Now COVID-19 is, it's like everywhere is the epicenter, so everybody’s having to increase their capacity to take care of it,” she explains
But Douthit El says travel nurses can make significantly more than nurses who’ve stayed with a home hospital, with the potential to receive stipends for food, housing, and mileage, and sign-on and referral bonuses.
“I mean you can hear things about thousands of dollars of bonuses,” she says.
Douthit El says it can be frustrating for home hospital nurses doing the same job, making less.
“It is discouraging and they do talk about it, at the same time we do want to recognize those who stay and provide the care,” she explains.
Douthit El says it's causing some employers to look at ways they can incentivize those workers too.