Hospitals face nursing shortages as another COVID surge looms, offer significant incentives

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MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58)-- As COVID cases surge, hospitals and skilled care facilities across Wisconsin are coping with nursing shortages that are impacting care.

Froedtert Hospital is offering a $6,000 sign-on bonus to experienced RNs, trying to attract critical care nurses. But in the meantime, over-worked and over-stressed nurses across the state are trying to cover the gaps.

Gina Dennik-Champion is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Nurses Association. She says, "I think nurses are really feeling the stress. They were not anticipating another surge."

Dennik-Champion says staffs are stretched thin as hospitals are filling up and most primary care clinics are back open. Hospitals are rushing to bolster their ranks, but in the meantime it's impacting care. She says, "Nurses are getting yelled at. A lot. Which really doesn't help morale."

She says many nurses are leaving COVID units for less-stressful positions and with a third of the nursing workforce expected to retire within next ten years, many may be leaving early.

On average, the state of Wisconsin graduates 3,000 new nurses every year, and so far the forecast looks ok through 2025. Dr. Marilyn Frenn is a professor at Marquette University's College of Nursing. She says, "The people we do get are very committed. They're doing this because they want to help other people."

Dr. Frenn says application rates are high, classes are full, and the pandemic is not scaring people away. But instructors are focusing more on mental health and support."We have definitely been working on that all along, but even more now. In each of our classes, we reach out to the students to say 'how are you doing?' 'what's going on?'"

Students are still getting important clinical experience, but nurses say it doesn't quite match what's happening in the field, and that includes the stress. Dennik-Champion says, "They're tired when they get home. And as much as we push self-care, self-reflection, they just don't have the energy."

Nurses will renew their bi-annual licenses this coming January and February. The experts say that will be a good indicator of the state of the industry.

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