TAMPA, Fla. -- While doctors and nurses have spent months working around the clock to battle COVID-19, efforts are underway to bring in more staff across the state to help.
The governor said it’s been a long road for medical professionals, noting personnel would be the key factor during a news conference Thursday.
“We’re gonna be deploying over 1,000 people throughout the state very soon. We have the capacity to potentially up that to 3,000,” Governor Ron DeSantis said.
The state said while it waits for a determination from FEMA on a request for 1,500 nurses, it’s securing nurses that can be deployed throughout the state, provided through staffing agencies. A hundred nurses contracted through the state have already been sent to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.
The state said future deployments will be based on hospital systems requests.
Across the Tampa Bay region, hospitals are taking their own steps as well.
“The staff is working hard very diligently putting in long hours taking on extra shifts but there’s the concern for battle fatigue to be honest with you and there’s the additional emotional component of the fact that their all concerned about could they be bringing this home to their families?” said Dr. Kirk Voelker, a critical care specialist and the director of clinical research at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.
The hospital system said it had requested several dozen nurses from agencies, are hoping to get more and have called back in seasonal staff.
Tampa General Hospital said it has the staffing it needs in place and hasn’t brought in new nurses from elsewhere.
The BayCare Health System is turning to travel nurses, bringing in hundreds and hiring more nursing team members.
“Our goal is to continue supporting our extraordinary nursing team as they work through this unprecedented time to provide safe, high-quality care for all we serve. In the past month, BayCare has utilized a tool hospitals often leverage during peak times: Travel nurses. We have brought in more than 200 to support the teams at our 15 hospitals. In addition, we are hiring additional full-time nursing team members and shifting clinical staff from other areas of the system to hospitals where help is needed most,” a spokesperson stated.
A spokesperson for HCA West Florida Division said they too are bringing in additional nurses. The spokesperson said they have 66 rapid response nurses who will be joining them over the next few weeks and another 120 caregivers arriving over the next two months on temporary status.
“We are continuing to work with the county emergency operations center and the Governor's Task Force to recruit additional nurses as we continue our surge planning in advance of projected patient increases over the next several weeks,” the spokesperson stated.
Meanwhile, AdventHealth said it’s prepared to bring in nurses from its hospitals in Colorado.
“This is sort of the same thing, really. We have a bump up in our census, you know, not the flu but COVID. So we’re prepared to respond to that. We have our own nurses we have nurses who are coming from Colorado. Our CEO has done a great job from several of our hospitals, hospital systems there, to make those nurses available. I think we’re doing a great job but I don’t think we’re seeing anything more than we do when we have a bad flu season,” said Dr. Doug Ross, CMO for AdventHealth Tampa.
Ross said they also have people coming in to help support their healthcare staff with stress and pressure.
“I’m very proud of our physicians and also our nurses and other healthcare staff, they have been working hard. This is an emotional time because it’s not just caring for sick people they’re also concerned about family and friends and others so there’s a lot of emotional overlays,” he said.
But for some nurses, there are still concerns.
“There is a desperate staffing need,” said Marissa Lee.
She is a board member for National Nurses United and said she works as an RN in Central Florida in a labor and delivery unit at a hospital-owned by HCA.
“I’m proud to be a nurse. I want to do my job but I want to do my job well. I can’t. I don’t have the staff, I don’t have the equipment, I don’t have the support from my hospital to take care of these patients,” she said.
Lee said her concerns include not enough PPE, notifications of when they’ve potentially been exposed to COVID-19 and staffing.
“I always say, 'Hey, I don’t wanna do no harm.' And my biggest thing is, am I hurting someone by showing up to work? And not having the equipment to perform that job,” she said. “But then my thought is, 'Can I not show up to work and leave my coworkers stranded because we’re already short-staffed so why waste time?' The biggest thing I can do is show up to work and take that risk.”
A spokesperson for HCA Healthcare said they’re doing everything they can to equip patient care teams to provide safe and effective care, and that hospitals have adequate supplies of PPE.
“Our hospitals currently have adequate supplies of PPE, and we are doing everything in our power to ensure we continue to have enough to protect our colleagues as they provide care to patients. Our hospitals have an assigned clinician that is solely responsible for overseeing PPE inventory and stewardship. We have also deployed dedicated teams of educators, infection prevention experts and nurse leaders to provide support. Our facilities are vigilant when it comes to sanitation, screening, visitor restrictions, masking, as well as strictly following all guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Additionally, each hospital works closely with federal, state and local partners to stay up-to-date on the latest information and guidance to support our community and our colleagues,” the spokesperson stated.