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Texas Nurses Overwhelmed By Staffing Shortages And Newest COVID Wave

A nurse works at a nursing home in Round Rock.
Julia Reihs
Courtney Cavalier works at the Hearthstone Nursing and Rehabilitation COVID-19 unit in Round Rock on Dec. 15.

The most recent wave of COVID-19 patients and an increasingly onerous staffing shortage are overwhelming nurses across Texas, according to the Texas Nurses Association.

Care providers have been understaffed for years, with a reported shortage of roughly 25,000 registered nurses in 2018, according to the Texas Center for Nursing Workforce Studies. The deficit was projected to get worse even before the pandemic hit.

Dr. Serena Bumpus, director of practice with the Texas Nurses Association, said nurses in hospitals across the state have stepped up to deal with those shortages.

“If you've ever known a nurse, you know many nurses don't like to leave their teammates hanging,” Bumpus said. “So many nurses will pick up [extra hours] just so their teammates don't have to work short staffed.”

But those nurses are facing burnout trying to provide the same quality of care to a pool of patients on the rise again.

“We pride ourselves in the care that we are able to give to our patients,” Bumpus said. “And when we can’t adhere to that high standard every single day, it really takes its toll on the profession and the individual.”

The Texas Department of State Health Services tracks hospitalization data for the 21 trauma service areas that cover the state. Over the past week, each area saw an increase in the percentage of beds allotted for COVID-19 patients. COVID-related cases currently comprise about 7.5% of all hospitalizations in the Austin area. That number is closer to 13.5% in the Killeen area.

If an area crosses the 15% mark for COVID-related hospitalizations for seven days in a row, an executive order signed by Gov. Greg Abbott would require hospitals in that area to postpone elective surgeries and procedures. (Editor's note: An executive order issued after this story was published overrides that order. Hospitals no longer have to postpone elective surgeries if hospitalizations reach that threshold.)

Nurses facing their third wave of COVID-19 patients are saying they can’t take it anymore.

“They’re either leaving the profession altogether or they’re leaving the bedside and looking for other avenues to practice,” Bumpus said. “And that is very detrimental to our healthcare infrastructure here in the state of Texas and quite frankly, across the United States.”

The Texas Nurses Association is urging the public to get vaccinated to protect themselves, keep from overwhelming the health care system and support nurses.

Sangita Menon is a general assignment reporter for KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @sangitamenon.
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