Savannah hospitals try to fill gaps created by nursing shortage

Published: Aug. 19, 2022 at 5:45 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Still feeling affects from the pandemic, three major hospitals in Savannah that serve the entire Coastal Empire and Lowcountry have nursing positions to fill.

“Georgia is losing more nurses than it’s producing.”

St. Joseph’s nurse manager Mary Robinson has a full nursing staff on her floor, but that’s not the case for nurses on other floors of the hospital. So, nurses working overtime often pitch in.

“Instead of picking up here, they’ll pick up an extra shift to help their sister unit,” Robinson said.

That’s been the story since the pandemic began in 2020. Robinson said this lack of nurses calls for a lot of teamwork as nurses check on each other’s patients.

“We use a team approach so there’s not any fragmentation of care,” Robinsons said.

Chief nursing officer at Candler, Sherry Danello, said prior to the COVID pandemic in 2019, the St. Joseph’s/Candler system had a 7 to 10 percent nurse vacancy rate. Now that rate is at 13 to 15 percent and it changes daily. “They were facing life and death every day.” Their focused on hiring nurses with experience.

“It’s very important to have the right mix of new graduates and experienced nurses at the bed sides,” Danello said.

Memorial Health is also struggling to fill nurse positions. Right now, they have a 20 to 25 percent vacancy rate - their rate also changing daily.

The chief nursing officer at Memorial Health said there aren’t as many nurses walking the halls because of the demand for traveling nurses.

“They know that they can be mobile, so we have to create an environment that fulfills them, that gives them good clinical practice and support,” Todd Isbell said.

Isbell said because of staffing issues, they brought licensed practical nurses, or LPNs, back to the hospital in March.

“To really extend the RN and to take the pressure off of some of the need for RN staffing,” Isbell said.

St. Joseph’s/Candler will begin a similar model in October.

Governor Brian Kemp is trying to attract more nurses to Georgia. He appointed Danello to his Healthcare Workforce Commission, and she plans to recommend the model to the taskforce.

“The RN is the team leader and bringing some LPN’s back into the acute care workforce and then the CNA or PCT working as a team to care for a group of patients,” Danello said.

“We’re going to continue to innovate and create opportunities to provide amazing care,” Robinson said.