Breaking News
More () »

Pandemic making nursing shortage a crisis in St. Louis

Nurses are retiring early or leaving for higher paying jobs out of exhaustion. Traveling nurses can make up to $5,000 a week
Credit: AP
FILE - In this Wednesday, May 27, 2020 file photo, Medical personnel adjust their personal protective equipment while working in the emergency department at NYC Health + Hospitals Metropolitan in New York. Hospitals and nursing homes in New York are bracing for the possibility that a statewide COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers could lead to staff shortages when it takes effect Monday, Sept. 27, 2021. Doctors and nurses — and also support staff, like food service workers and cleaners — have been given until Sept. 27 to get at least their first vaccine shot in one of the nation's most aggressive plans to protect patients. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

ST. LOUIS — The relentless toll of the pandemic has worsened the ongoing nursing shortage at St. Louis area hospitals.

Over the past decade, the nation's nursing shortage has been growing but now with the number of nurses leaving the profession during the pandemic, it's turning into a crisis, nurses and hospital administrators say to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Turnover became heavy last fall and winter during the surge of COVID-19 patients. Now after so many people refused to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, the number of hospitalizations has surged again with the spread of the highly contagious delta variant of the virus.

Mercy is losing about 160 nurses a month out of the 8,500 working in the Chesterfield-based system’s hospitals and clinics across Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, and Oklahoma, said Betty Jo Rocchio, Mercy’s chief nursing officer. Filling the openings with new hires or travelers is becoming increasingly difficult, especially in rural areas.

“It’s pretty serious,” Rocchio said. “It’s impacting the amount of patients in this country that we can take care of.”

After a stressful summer, some nurses have stopped giving in to requests to work extra hours. Some are switching to less stressful careers. Some have retired early. Others have left hospital jobs to become a temporary traveling nurse that are in massive demand that comes with salaries four or five times higher than what nurses would typically make.

MORE: US hospitals hit with nurse staffing crisis amid COVID

Jeremy Fotheringham, president of eight SSM Health St. Louis-area hospitals, said the shortage is “severe,” with about 80 out of 5,500 system nurses leaving each month. He and other hospital officials are in constant communication about how to make sure they are able to care for everyone.

“I’ve been in health care almost 25 years, and I’ve never seen anything close to the challenges that we are facing now for all the people that work in our hospitals and clinics,” Fotheringham said.

RELATED: New York hospital to 'pause' delivering babies after unvaccinated staff quit

Before You Leave, Check This Out