Staffing concerns over state nursing contracts ending mid-May

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NACOGDOCHES, Texas (KTRE) - ‘It’s creating a staffing crisis.’ that’s what a state contract nurse from Longview says about state nursing contracts ending on May 15.

Intensive care unit numbers have fewer COVID-19 cases, but the census is still fluctuating. Soon rural hospitals will have trouble caring for the very sick.

Staffing concerns over state nursing contracts ending mid-May

ICU visiting nurse Heather Curtis is a state contract nurse from Hawaii. She hosts a party to say thank you to the Memorial Hospital staff she’s worked beside since July.

“We have a lot of memories of patients we lost, but we had a lot of patients that have been really, really well. And it’s been really good to be part of that team,” said Curtis with a quiver in her voice.

The bond lasts. The help goes away. So does the state money to pay the salaries.

“It is going to be a very devastating thing to our hospital to lose them,” said Kristine Sutton, chief nursing officer at Memorial Hospital.

Sutton first said goodbye to members of her own staff. They left for lucrative paying contract jobs. Job posting sites advertise salaries up to $5,000 or more a week. Out of the league for rural Texas hospitals when state money runs out in May.

“We’ve lost a lot of staff and we’ve not been able to hire enough that we need right now. I’m very stressed about it,” said Sutton.

Departing nurses are concerned they are leaving hospitals in a bind. As many as nine in one week have left Memorial.

“I do believe we are leaving too soon. I believe the state of Texas, they are in critical need for help still,” said Cheryl Potrzuski, from Florida.

Last week at Memorial, there was no one in the ICU. This week 11 beds are full. Some with Covid-19. Others ill with other life-threatening ailments.

When state nurses pull out, Memorial’s current staffing can only care for four critically ill patients, according to Sutton.

That concerns northeast Texas nurses Sarah Smith from Tatum and Jennifer Lynch from Elysian Fields.

“It’s created a staffing crisis,” said Smith.

“So we want to stay here to help. And that’s the best way I know to put it,” said Lynch.

In all 34 contract nurses and 8 respiratory therapists came to Nacogdoches Memorial. They must be gone by May 15.

Nursing organizations are asking the state to extend contracts deadlines.

Texas Department of State Health Services Chris Van Deusen, Director of Media Relations stated:

COVID-19 hospitalizations have fallen about 80 percent from the peak in mid-January, and we have been reducing the amount of state-paid staff working in hospitals since late February. We want to do that gradually so that facilities will be able to plan accordingly, and we have been communicating with them at every step along the way. With such a large reduction in COVID cases and patients, the state can’t pay for hospital staff indefinitely. However, if we start to see more COVID-19 patients, and hospitals are unable to cope with them, we still have the capacity to provide staffing support.

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