NASHVILLE, Tennessee (WTVF) – The Tennessee Hospital Staff Assistance Program, which has helped area hospitals hire travel nurses, pay overtime, and meet other staff-related expenses during the pandemic, is almost exhausted.
The fund started last September with $ 100 million, but is now down to $ 10 million.
“We’re spreading pretty thin people, especially in this time of COVID,” said Robin Steaban, head nurse at Vanderbilt University Medical Center Adult Hospital.
Steaban says there was already a shortage of nurses before the pandemic, but now it’s off the charts. “Every day, just all day long, we are looking to find out where our nurses are going to be, where they are coming from and where this demand is,” Steaban said.
So, to maintain staff, hospitals like VUMC hire mobile nurses who often come from other parts of the country to help fill in the gaps. But it has become expensive. “Market demand drives the rate up, so it’s very expensive, but it’s very difficult,” Steaban said.
With so many traveling nurses in demand, Steaban calls it a bidding war that has erupted between hospitals and even pitted states against each other.
Now that the hospital staffing assistance program is so poorly funded, the Tennessee Department of Health has raised the threshold for which local hospitals are even eligible for funding. This exacerbated the staff crisis. “We are going to staff our beds to the best of our ability, stretching the staff to be able to take care of these patients, but there is a finite limit to what we are able to do,” Steaban said.
A spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Health told NewsChannel 5 that they were looking for other ways to fund the program. As for what we can do, says Steaban, get vaccinated.
“This COVID crisis will damage us in the end in terms of nursing so tired and spent, it will burn out and leave the profession and so we really need to change this COVID thing as fast as possible,” she said.
It should come as no surprise, on the Tennessee Jobs website, nurses are listed as the most needed area of employment, and it’s not even close.