The relentless COVID-19 pandemic has intensified America’s nursing shortage. Now, Kentucky nurses who work in schools, long-term care facilities, hospices, and hospitals are being lured away.
Hospitals in other states are offering up to four times Kentucky’s hourly wage for nurses.
WKU Public Radio reporter Rhonda Miller talked with the CEO of the Kentucky Nurses Association, Delanor Manson, about burnout from dealing with dying COVID patients, verbal attacks for asking people to wear a mask or get vaccinated, and possible solutions to the nursing shortage in the Bluegrass State.
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Manson: States like California, Texas and New York have an exponential nursing shortage. And they have retained travel nurse agencies to go out and find nurses to come to their states. Because Kentucky does not have the exponential nursing shortage that a lot of other states have, we are prime candidates for these travel nurse agencies. So, they are coming to Kentucky to poach our nurses to send them to other states. And they’re poaching our nurses with high dollars for hourly pay, as well as large bonuses.
Miller: What are some of those hourly pays? What are they poaching them with?
Manson: $100 to $200 an hour.
Miller: What would be the typical average hourly rate for a nurse in Kentucky?
Manson: I think it’s about $45 an hour.
Miller: So, are you aware of many, or some, nurses leaving for sort of temporary positions in New York or California or Texas?
Manson: Yes. And they get these offers daily. And so, it’s a compounded issue. It’s not just the money. And it’s not just the burnout. One of our chapters reported that at their meeting, the nurses were talking about the major issue for them is how terrible they’re being treated. They need to change out of their scrubs before they go to the grocery store, because they get attacked and accosted at the grocery store. That should not happen.
Miller: What do you think is this whole mistreatment of nurses now? What brought that on?
Manson: I think people in general are tired of the pandemic, but the nurses didn’t do it. The nurses have been the people who have been there to help during the pandemic. The nurses are also trying to keep patients and other staff safe. So, they’re asking people to put their mask on and asking people to get vaccinated. The idea that a nurse would be attacked because she provides a vaccination for someone is just it’s beyond words for me. Just beyond words.
Miller: Do you have any suggestions about how this might be improved? I know the governor has proposed that there’s going to be a bonus to essential workers, I guess, including medical workers after two years. I mean, from what it sounds like you’re saying, many of them may be gone before that.
Manson: I am saying that. We have nurses who are close to retirement who are saying, “You know, I’m not going to do this any longer. I’m going to retire. I am not going to put my life on the line every day and be treated like this.” So yes, I have a list of things that we can do to help nurses. You can’t give nurses enough money to really make a difference. But a retention bonus would say we appreciate you. Some of the other things include how we support the mental health of nurses, when nurses are dealing with very sick patients day in and day out, with those that are dying day in and day out, with family members that are stressed day in and day out. It’s also something for nurses to help them to manage that stress. Something that we could do is bring back retired nurses for shorter shifts. Long-term one of the things that we need to consider is loan forgiveness for nursing school. But the short term that we could address today is to start thanking those nurses who show up every day.