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Brooksville nurses protest staff shortages at an HCA hospital

 About a dozen nurses at HCA's Oak Hill Hospital in Brooksville rallied outside on Tuesday demanding the hospital address staff shortages.
Lindsay Sanders
National Nurses United
About a dozen nurses at HCA's Oak Hill Hospital in Brooksville rallied outside on Tuesday demanding the hospital address staff shortages.

Nurses say they're juggling too many patients at once and say the added workload puts everyone in danger.

Nurses at an HCA hospital in Hernando County are sounding the alarm about staff shortages they say are endangering the safety of patients and workers.

A couple of dozen people rallied outside Oak Hill Hospital in Brooksville on Tuesday morning.

Staff shortages were a problem before the COVID-19 pandemic but have gotten worse as nurses left the field or took travel jobs elsewhere for more money, according to Judy Preuss, a nurse on the hospital's intensive care unit.

Preuss, 65, said she has worked at Oak Hill for 17 years. She and her colleagues stuck it out during the worst of the pandemic while others left, but Preuss said now they’re struggling to handle the continued strain on their workloads.

She said nurses are juggling too many patients at once, which is taking a mental and physical toll on staff and affecting care.

“When you leave at the end of the day, you just feel like you've been putting out fires, you know that you haven't completed all the tasks you need to take care of that patient safely,” Preuss said. “You can't take care of the patient like you would your own mother, even, and that's how you want to take care of patients. All our patients are our mothers, our sisters, ourselves laying in those beds.”

In a statement shared by HCA spokesperson Debra McKell, Oak Hill Hospital said their staffing levels are “appropriate and are consistent with national standards.”

“We are fortunate to have dedicated and skilled healthcare professionals who deliver high-quality care to patients and our community,” the statement continued.

Hospital officials say they have hired 78 new direct care nurses so far this year and are continuing to recruit.

Preuss said some of those people need more training.

“These are brand new nurses that should have a lot of extra help to guide them and they're not getting it. So now we have a lot of unskilled nurses out on the floor and no experienced nurses to teach them,” she said.

Preuss wants the hospital to provide more financial incentives to keep nurses around.

Oak Hill said the hospital remains focused on recruiting, training and retaining staff. It said it offers an “excellent” benefits package and supports career advancement.

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Stephanie Colombini joined WUSF Public Media in December 2016 as Producer of Florida Matters, WUSF’s public affairs show. She’s also a reporter for WUSF’s Health News Florida project.