Hospital systems strained as staffing shortages put pressure on nurses

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Nursing professionals throughout the area and the state are sounding the alarm over staffing shortages as the pandemic worsens.

Many hospitals are struggling to attract new nurses, and many more nurses are leaving the profession due to burnout.

One nurse said the workload in the hallways is double what it should be, the stress often feels overwhelming and the situation is worsening. Hospital systems are trying to care for and retain current nurses, while also trying to get new nurses to sign on.

The Wisconsin Center for Nursing's Thomas Veeser said, "It's kind of like squeezing a balloon. You know, you can squeeze it, but the pressure point pops out someplace else."

Veeser says the pandemic is creating pressure on a lot of areas within the health care system, and addressing one could negatively impact others. Veeser says the entire market has aggressively adjusted salaries over the last nine months, but trying to attract new hires has priced many hospitals out of competitive wages.

All the while, fatigue and burnout are taking a toll. Nurse Bobbi Givens said, "It took a lot of compassion away from you. You didn't have time to be compassionate."

Givens felt it firsthand, saying nurses simply cannot care for people the way they were taught, the way they once dreamed of doing. She said, "Before I feel like we did a lot more bedside manner, spent more time to patient, got to know the patient and got to take care of the families as well."

The last time Bobbi was on the floor she tended to eight patients at once, twice the number she felt was safe. She said, "But you have to do what you got to do. Most of the nurses are team players and help each other out as much as they can."

She recently left her position to take a step back. She's now a nurse consultant and still works as a freelancer. She says hospitals will have to pay more, but even then, it may not be enough. She says nurses need to know they're valuable.

But like Veeser's balloon analogy, adding more money or people into one area of need pulls those resources from another. So he's left hoping the burden on the system eases. He said, "The amount of work that is being placed on health care workers by non-vaccinated people is demoralizing our country."

In the coming weeks and months, Thomas Veeser expects Wisconsin hospitals will become even more financially stressed because costs are going up and revenue is not. He says that could contribute to an even greater staffing shortage, and even more stress and burnout.

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