Local nurse describes COVID’s impact on already strained nursing industry

A local nurse sits down with Eyewitness News to talk about the impact COVID-19 is having on the current nursing shortage.
Published: Jan. 12, 2022 at 6:00 PM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - The Sedgwick County COVID-19 dashboard shows local hospitals continue to operate in critical status, as the current surge in COVID cases adds to an already existing nationwide shortage of nurses. Eyewitness News wanted to know how that shortage and the ongoing surge affects our local hospitals. While the hospitals wouldn’t sit down with us on the subject, one local nurse did.

Michelle Martin is a registered nurse who says she loves serving her community, but it’s a community that she no longer serves in a medical capacity. She says working conditions at Wesley Medical Center have become difficult and worrisome for nurses there.

“What if something happened to my husband? Would I want him in an ICU, where a nurse had three critically ill patients? Would he get the care that he needs and deserves?” Martin questioned. “And that’s not just my husband, that’s our community. So, I don’t know what you would expect. That is extremely scary.”

Overworked, understaffed, underpaid and running on fumes. That’s how, Martin describes the current situation at Wesley. She says she knows many nurses reluctant to step forward to tell that tale, but she feels it’s her duty to do so.

“I just want the community to be aware of the situation that our community is in,” she said, “If you were in a car accident, God forbid, you had to go to hospital.”

Martin says the ratio of nurses to patients continues to shrink. One nurse is often charged with caring for several critically ill patients at the same time. It’s something she says has raised fear in her and fellow nurses about the quality of care being given to all patients. In turn, it also raises concern for their nursing licenses.

“It’s your license. It’s not the hospital’s license,” she said. “If you have any event happen and the list goes on, but it’s your license, not the hospital. The hospital’s not going to have their doors closed. You’re going to lose your license and your livelihood.”

Because of that, Martin says many veteran nurses are simply walking away. Quitting their jobs, to work in other industries, or like her, transitioning into travel nursing. Traveling to hospitals in other communities, also short-staffed, and in need of trained help. It’s a scenario that is being played out at many hospitals across the country. She says many nurses now staffing hospitals are less experienced, or they’re traveling nurses less familiar with the doctors and the hospitals themselves.

“These young nurses, the average veteran is like 18 months. Eighteen months as an ICU nurse,” said Martin. “It’s going to come to a head at both hospitals. The way that the staffing is right now and it would be even worse situation than we’re in.”

Martin says her fellow nurses tell her it’s a similar situation at Ascension Via Christi.

On numerous occasions, Eyewitness News has asked to sit down with someone from Wesley or Via Christi to discuss the nursing shortage. In December, both seemed open to the idea but said they’d need to wait until the beginning of this year. In January, Ascension Via Christi declined to take part in the story. A representative with Wesley Medical Center stopped returning my messages.

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