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Florida Hospitals Struggle To Retain Enough Nurses During COVID-19 Surge

With demand for their services high around the country, Florida nurses are leaving for higher wages and safer conditions, just as the state has a growing number of hospitals reporting staff shortages.

Hospitals around the country need more nurses, includingin Florida, which has the most per capita hospitalizations for COVID-19 of any state and spiking COVID-19 numbers.

"Because there's been a demand for nurses, we're all getting offers from agencies from around the country, from different hospitals in South Florida and throughout Florida with offers for double, sometimes triple your salary," said Betsy Marville, nurse organizer with the 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East in Florida.

She worries that nurses won’t come back to some of their previous jobs, as opposed to seasonal travel jobs of years past.

Marville, 63, based in Palm Beach County, said she plans to retire soon, but the demand is there if she wanted to continue working. One nursing agency sent her a job offer that would pay $70 an hour for 13 weeks.

"They are limited, but since the offers keep coming, you can stay pretty well employed," Marville said.

She added that those on the brink of retirement, like her, are more likely to retire early than stay in workplaces where the threat of a coronavirus infection is high.

Some states offer more protections for nurses such as nurse-to-patient ratios — Florida does not. The 1199 SEIU also wants nurses to receive hazard pay in the state.

Leah Carpenter, chief operating officer at Memorial Healthcare System in Broward County, told WLRN's Sundial that nursing agencies — like the ones Marville mentioned — make it hard to compete.

"We have a staffing crisis," said Carpenter, noting that many staff members are exhausted. "We can not continue to have this for an infinite amount of time and expect to have a good outcome."

The COVID-19 patient volume keeps growing, and Memorial is paying bonuses and incentives to keep employees.

"We are creating patient spaces in auditoriums, we're creating spaces in our classrooms. I need the staff to take care of them," Carpenter said.

Juana Mejía, manager of Memorial Hospital Miramar's COVID intensive care unit, said she and her colleagues are passionate about saving lives, but during COVID-19 their work has become much harder.

"I encourage our community, especially our community in Broward County and Miami-Dade County — we need everyone to get vaccinated," said Mejía. "Not only for you. We want to save you, and we want you to save us."

Marville also urges people to get vaccinated, which would help nurses feel more comfortable and able to stay in their jobs as the pandemic continues.

"Millions of people, including myself, have done it. We know it's safe and effective," she said.

Copyright 2021 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Verónica Zaragovia