COVID-19 and staff shortages: Frontline workers fight two battles at one time


ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — It’s no secret that life for hospital workers in the past year-and-a-half has been tough.

According to Sonya Charlow, Director of Talent Acquisition for Carilion Clinic, “It’s challenging. You’re seeing things and numbers of patients this past year that have been record numbers in some cases.”

While fighting the coronavirus, the frontline workers have another crisis on their hands — a lack of nurses. It’s a fight that is being felt at medical facilities across the United States.

“We have not been immune to the nurses shortage,” said Margaret Lea Lee, Chief Nursing Officer for LewisGale Medical Center.

Reports from the Virginia Department of Health Professions (DHP) indicate a consistent, slow decline in the number of Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs). Here’s a look at the number of LPNs for the last five years, according to DHP:

  • 2020: 29,112
  • 2019: 29,500
  • 2018: 29,840
  • 2017: 30,444
  • 2016: 31,102

LPNs are the men and women who provide basic nursing care such as taking blood pressure, monitoring vital signs, and tending to wounds. Not to be confused with registered nurses (RNs) who administer medications, draw blood, and collect lab samples.

One health care professional says the increase in job opportunities for those in the medical field is a contributing factor to the declining numbers of LPNs, who typically look to move up the ladder in the workplace.

“Not only are they doing floor nurse unit work; they’re also able to do other positions such as working in IT (Information Technology) or going back to school to become nurse practitioners,” said Charlow.

All of the positions are critical to the complete care of patients.

Medical centers are offering several incentives to attract more people to the nursing field. Carilion Clinic and LewisGale offer sign-on bonuses, incentive pay, and competitive market adjustments. They also partner with colleges and universities to attract more workers. The tactics seem to be working.

“We’ve been able to increase our experienced nurses by 20 percent, our new graduate nurses by 25 percent, and we’re also working on securing several international nurses as well,” Lee said.

“We’ve been able to recruit this past year over 500 nurses and we continue to do the same types of efforts to try to get staff here,” said Charlow.

The more caring people walking through the halls of hospitals, the more it means quality care will be provided to those suffering from life-threatening illnesses.

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