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Hospitals in Maryland concerned about nursing shortage with surge of patients on the horizon

Posted at 11:59 PM, Nov 24, 2020

BALTIMORE — Early on in the pandemic, hospitals needed more PPE. But, as they prepare for an influx of patients due to a growing second wave of COVID-19, they're now worried about not having enough nurses.

“We are really going to be faced with a really tough challenge in front of us," said Neysa Ernst who is a nurse at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Ernst said Johns Hopkins--like many hospitals--are dealing with a shortage of nurses, which has been a problem for years--not only in Maryland but also across the country.

In the first wave of the virus, she said Johns Hopkins moved nurses around where many of them had to learn new positions and work in different units to make up for the shortage.

Since then and in a short period of time, she said the hospital has hired more nurses than she can ever remember.

Ernst said she believes they have enough staff to meet the demand the second wave will bring. But, with the unpredictable virus, she's also worried about the unknown and the potential they may need more if the virus doesn't slow down.

“You could lose a whole unit to COVID. A whole unit of nurses can get sick," she said "What do we do then.”

As as part of the state's surge plan, Governor Larry Hogan allowed hospitals to give beds to other hospitals who are near or at capacity. He said there are many hospitals in the state already at capacity and others are very close.

The state also has fast tracked the licensing process, allowed nursing students to graduate early and gave the green light for retired nurses to come back and help.

But, the shortage is still a concern with a surge of patients on the horizon.

“We can’t manufacture them on an assembly line," said Bob Atlas who is the president of Maryland Hospital Association. "We need everybody to be available. There’s not people from around the country who we can bring in here because every place is having shortages.”

Ernst said it will be a tough six weeks ahead, but she added Hopkins and hospitals across the state are ready for what’s to come.

“It’s scary...but there’s also a lot of hope too," she said.

She said while they play an important role in beating the virus and saving lives, it's also critical for everyone else to do their part by following CDC guidelines, especially ahead of the holiday.

“If you want to thank a nurse, stay home and wear a mask," Ernst said.