Sherri Dayton left her home in Quaker Hill around 2:30 a.m. Thursday and began working a 4-hour shift as a registered nurse at the Plainfield Emergency Care Center. She got home around 7:30 p.m., took a shower while reheating the food in the microwave, and fell asleep at 8:30 a.m., but got up at 2 a.m. on Friday to work another 12 hours. time.
Her budgeted emergency room hours are three 12-hour shifts, but she and other nurses have more often found themselves staying longer to make up for staff shortages. This exacerbates exhaustion, which can cause people to call or leave, creating an increased need for 16-hour days.
âIt’s this vicious cycle. Where does it end? Where does it end? Dayton asked. She said her department should have a patient-to-nurse ratio of four to one, but she’s been seven to one “a lot of times in the past two months, and seven to one isn’t sure.”
She feels lucky to be working a day shift, when she knows parents who could directly go overtime on the second shift looking after their children in the morning.
Dayton is president of the Backus Federation of Nurses, AFT Connecticut Local 5149, and she is studying to become a nurse practitioner. She said she wanted to become a nurse educator, but chose not to because she would be racking up debt to get her masters degree but wouldn’t earn much more than she does in acute care.
Lisa Sundean, president of the Connecticut Center for Nursing Workforce, said enrollment in nursing education programs across the state has never been higher, but âwe cannot accept all applicants into our nursing program. training, because we don’t have enough teachers, and we don’t have enough teachers because these people are in this magical age group. “
Also in this âmagic age groupâ, that is to say the retirement age, there are a lot of nurses. Because of this, people in the industry predict a shortage long before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, and shortages come in cycles anyway, but Sundean and others agree COVID-19 has hastened retirement for many. .
According to the Governor’s Workforce Council strategic plan released last October, 52% of RNs employed in Connecticut are over 50, and schools in Connecticut rejected 7,000 qualified applicants to nursing schools the previous year “because lack of educational capacity “.
Another “pretty scary” national trend that Sundean sees is that young nurses drop out after a year or two, feeling “cast to the wolves”. And she sees shortages not only in acute care facilities, but also in long-term care, primary care and schools.
The American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living said in June that 94% of nursing home operators surveyed recently said they had been understaffed in the past month, with 73% saying the situation of the workforce had improved somewhat or significantly. worse compared to 2020. In September, 86% of retirement homes surveyed said their workforce situation had worsened since June.
Hospitals struggle to recruit
Donna Handley, president of Hartford HealthCare’s Backus Hospital in Norwich, said the national trend of nursing shortages “is exactly what we are experiencing”. She said she had a heat map of where every RN in Connecticut lived and that there was “a smaller pool of applicants in the eastern region.”
She said Backus tries to supplement employed nurses with itinerant nurses, but finding them is difficult as they are in high demand across the country.
Handley also said it was more difficult to recruit specialist nurses, such as for the operating room, emergency department and intensive care. But she said Hartford HealthCare has developed a program to identify and train nurses who wish to specialize.
She noted that pivot nurses are being removed from their regular jobs to take shifts elsewhere, to have fewer cases of nurses being forced to work overtime and “to ensure that nurses can rest as much as possible” .
She said full-time staff received a bonus of $ 1,000 and the hospital was rolling out a wellness questionnaire this month.
What remains to be seen is the impact of hospital staff who do not get vaccinated: Hartford HealthCare and Yale New Haven Health, which includes Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London and Westerly Hospital, have demanded in July that employees be fully immunized by September 30.
Dr Ajay Kumar, clinical director of Hartford HealthCare, said Thursday that nearly 98% of health system workers are vaccinated and that the penalty for those who don’t get vaccinated “is that they maybe don’t. part of our organization. over time here, so there could be a “termination,” unless they are exempt.
Donna Epps, vice president of human resources at L + M and Westerly hospitals, said in an emailed statement that the employee shortage has been a problem across the country for a long time, and not just in healthcare.
âWe have an aging population and many baby boomers are retiring,â Epps said. “As the pandemic unfolds, people are reassessing their priorities and placing more importance on work / life balance, which often leads them to quit their jobs altogether.”
She said Yale New Haven Health recently advertised for a position – an administrative assistant – and found only one qualified candidate.
Alexa Mills said she enjoys working in L + M’s intensive care unit, but burnout and staffing issues prompted her to notify her transfer last month. Her last day is Friday, and then she starts working at an outpatient endoscopy clinic in Guilford – where she will have patients who choose to be there, for planned procedures.
Mills, 33, said that for her own sake and her relationship with her partner and family, she had to take a break from the ICU.
âThere are days when I can’t speak. There are days when I cry in the shower,â she said. “I feel like this meme when someone pulls over at a traffic light next to you and you cry at a red light.”
Mills said the community is very supportive and the bonuses are great, but the money doesn’t go any further.
âWhen we scan, we don’t forget the patients and the hands we held and the FaceTime conversations we had,â she said.
Dale Cunningham, president of Local 5049 of AFT Connecticut, the union of registered nurses of L + M, said she did not feel as valued as she was when she entered nursing 45 years ago – and there is more work, more pressure and more technology to learn. Cunningham, 66, works in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Cunningham said nurses have also been affected by a decrease in the number of other staff, such as respiratory therapists, personal care assistants, aides and secretaries.
This is something the Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board is working to solve: Modeled on the successful Manufacturing Pipeline Initiative, which has had 100 courses since its inception in 2016, EWIB this year launched the Eastern CT Healthcare Pipeline Initiative.
EWIB President Mark Hill said so far there has been a class to train sterile treatment technicians and one for orderlies, with more to come. The pipeline courses are held five days a week for five to ten weeks, and both of these courses were held at Three Rivers Community College.
With public and private funding, the intensive training is free for participants.
“There is no relief in sight”
When Sarah Sparen was diagnosed with cervical cancer earlier this year, her first reaction, she said, was “fear and tears.” But when she realized that meant she would be out of a job from her job with the Visiting Nurse Association for six weeks, the feeling turned to relief.
“I was more afraid of what was happening to me mentally than what was happening to me physically, and that was going to give me a break,” said Sparen, 43. She added that when “you are thankful that you have cancer so that you can just take a break, there is something wrong.”
She said that as a home care nurse, she was asked to see five or six patients every day, but she started to work more and more overtime, which meant that she got an email in the middle of the day telling him to see five more.
“The nurses left, and then there was no one to replace them, and so we had mandatory overtime, then the nurses left, and then we had more overtime,” he said. she declared.
Sparen said after her diagnosis she filed her review without having a job in sight and was considering returning to the waitress. She ended up taking over three months off, but recently started working as a hospice nurse for Hartford HealthCare. She praises her new job, saying she feels supported and that there is no high staff turnover.
Through it all, Sparen emphasized that nurses love to be nurses, and she tells people, “I’m the luckiest person in the world because I’m paid to love people.” She said during the pandemic, she never felt like, “Oh, I didn’t sign up for this.”
Annie Ryan is president of AFT Local 5119, which represents nurses with the Southeast Connecticut VNA. She does home care during the summer and nursing at school during the school year. Her school hours are shorter and more regular, but she says her job is more stressful than ever.
âWe didn’t have time to sit down,â she said. Last week she sent 17 kids home in two days, and she said some parents get it while others “yell in your face, like, ‘Why did you send my child home, because that he just had a cold? ‘”
Ryan explained that according to the rules of public health officials, if a child has two or more symptoms, they are sent home. To return to school, they must either self-isolate for 10 days, get a doctor’s note with an alternative diagnosis, or get a negative PCR test.
Ryan said his family no longer wanted to hear about COVID-19 or stress at work, and that the effects of his job put a strain on his marriage.
âWe’ve never had vacancies for school nurses before, and we started the year with vacancies that aren’t filled,â said Ryan, 60. âThere’s just no one coming. The stress we’re feeling now, there’s no relief in sight, because it’s not like you put an ad in the newspaper and someone responds. . “