As Covid hospitalizations in the United States increase, a chronic shortage of nurses worsens.

US hospitals are once again filling up with coronavirus patients – but no nurses to care for them. Experts say the nation’s chronic shortage of registered nurses is as bad in some parts of the country as it has ever been, and it’s showing signs of worsening.

Hospitalizations have risen steadily in recent weeks, and the average daily number of people in hospitals who are infected with the coronavirus now exceeds 39,000, the highest since the final days of Omicron’s first surge in early March. The increase is largely due to BA.5, a fast-spreading Omicron sub-variant that is best to date at evading certain antibodies from past infections or vaccines.

But in the face of growing needs, hospitals across the country say they are still not finding enough nurses.

In New York state, the shortage is at an “all-time high,” said Matthew Allen, a registered nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York and a board member of the New York State Nurses Association. “It’s just historic, more than ever,” Allen said, noting that as of last week, Mount Sinai’s hospital system alone had 771 unfilled RN and nurse practitioner positions.

Nearly 14% of nursing jobs in Massachusetts acute care hospitals are unfilled, a deficit that has doubled since 2019, according to a recent Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association survey. The association has found more than 5,000 unfilled nursing positions in hospitals across the state.

To fill the gaps, hospitals are offering financial incentives to new hires, bringing in more independent nurses and, in some cases, cutting back on services they cannot staff enough.

Martin General Hospital, a 49-bed facility in eastern North Carolina, said this week it would temporarily close its intensive care unit starting in August due to difficulty finding nurses.

“Critical shortage levels are even more difficult in rural areas,” John Jacobson, the hospital’s chief executive, said in a statement.

At Johnson Memorial Hospital in Stafford Springs, Conn., inpatient and outpatient surgery has been suspended since June 9. The hospital said Wednesday it would seek to permanently halt hospital surgical services and close its labor and delivery unit, in part due to staffing shortages, according to hospital spokeswoman Mary Orr.

Florida’s nursing shortage is “probably the worst” hospitals have seen in decades, said Mary Mayhew, chief executive of the Florida Hospital Association, which represents more than 200 hospitals and health systems in the state.

Part of the problem, Ms Mayhew said, was the large number of nurses leaving regular hospital jobs to earn more money as temporary and contract nurses. “We have a 25-30% turnover rate, the highest we’ve seen in the decades we’ve been tracking this data,” she said.

The association’s member hospitals’ reliance on once-minimal temporary nursing staff has increased more than fivefold since 2019, Ms Mayhew said.

Broward Health, a health care system in Florida, is trying to fill 400 vacant nursing positions by offering bonuses of up to $20,000 and other incentives, a hospital spokesperson said.

The demand for nurses is expected to continue to grow significantly in the United States. Consulting firm McKinsey projected in a report in May that the country could face a shortage of 450,000 nurses by 2025.

Demand for travel nurses, who are brought in from out of town by staffing agencies to fill gaps in hospitals for a few weeks or months, hit an all-time high in 2021, and after falling a earlier this year has risen steadily again since May, according to April Hansen, group president at Aya Healthcare, one of the nation’s leading providers of travel nurses.

“It’s been like a roller coaster,” Ms. Hansen said. “We are now at a point where demand is more than double the steady-state demand that existed in the pre-pandemic era.”

She said salaries for traveling nurses were 20 per cent higher now than before the pandemic took hold and at one point had reached about double the pre-pandemic average.

While Aya Healthcare declined to elaborate on salaries, another staffing firm, Vivian Health, said in a June report that the national average salary for traveling nurses was $3,004 per week, or a 23% increase over the previous year’s average of $2,450.

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