TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Nurses, overwhelmed and frustrated, rallied outside state Capitol buildings Thursday. They urged state and federal lawmakers to make changes that would bring more into the industry to fight a growing shortage.
"Is it a good time to be a nurse?" said Grace Baboukis, a registered nurse from Oldsmar. "It's really not."
Baboukis joined about 100 others in front of Florida's Historic Capitol. She has been in the profession since 1981. Though mostly retired now, Baboukis often finds herself wanting to discourage others from following in her footsteps.
"I've always just totally encouraged it," Baboukis said. "This is the first time in my life where, when someone asks me I take a pause, and I think about that."
Her uncertainty comes after the pandemic stretched health workers beyond their limits for more than two years. Many left to find other lines of work.
Those who remained were left to do more with less, and research doesn't suggest relief is on the horizon. A report from 2021 estimated the state would be short about 60,000 nurses by 2035.
"Overworked," said fellow nurse Emily Bloom. "They’re underpaid, and they are being abused. That is just not an environment that anyone wants to stay in."
Bloom organized the Tallahassee gathering.
In conjunction with the national rally in Washington, D.C., her group sought several changes from either federal or state lawmakers.
They want improved nurse-to-patient ratios, better pay, a ban on wage caps and strengthened violence protection for health workers.
"How are we going to fill the gaps in our nursing communities if we are not able to fix these baseline problems?" Bloom said.
Florida lawmakers are already making an effort to fill the void. They approved $20 million in the upcoming budget to bolster nursing education in the state. The governor has yet to sign the provision but has voiced support.
"We want to be able to put people in positions where they go through a program, they get skills, they're going to be able to succeed," Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a press event Wednesday.
Big, state-level legislation will likely have to wait, however. Lawmakers do not return for the regular session until March 2023.
The nurses we spoke with said they'll be waiting, planning to keep up the pressure until then.
Baboukis was among them. She said if change comes, she might change her tune.
"I've always loved nursing and would love to continue to love nursing," she said.
There is a chance nursing legislation could come sooner than next year.
In a little over a week, lawmakers return for a special session on property insurance.
The governor said he would likely expand it to include issues outside of the original focus. To date, officials have offered little detail as to the subject of those added goals.