‘Not again’: Utah’s nursing shortage worsens as pandemic deaths increase

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – The nursing shortage in Utah is getting worse as the COVID-19 Delta variant rages on, causing several nurse to quit or pursue other jobs because of the toll it has taken on their physical and mental health.

The impact is immense.

University of Utah Health Chief Nursing Officer Tracy Nixon said empty hospital beds cannot be occupied without a nurse there for 24/7 care, so there is not a bed shortage issue, it is a nurse staffing issue.

For example, this past Saturday, two people from the medical ICU just left — packed up their belongings and moved back home because they couldn’t handle the tremendous workload anymore. 

“Here’s what I hear out right from people, ‘I just can’t do it again, not again,”‘ said Nixon.

Nurses are gearing up in what Nixon called COVID 2.0.

“This feels, acts, smells, and tastes like a nursing shortage,” said Nixon.

Across the board at University of Utah Health, there are hundreds of nursing jobs available.

More employees are quitting and leaving because of the physical and mental toll.

“One of them literally said, ‘I have to get out of here, I am going back home,”‘ said Nixon.

Nixon shared that example of a member of the medical ICU quitting, and Dr. Liz Close, a nurse with the Utah Nurses Association, shared why that probably is.

“They are very disappointed, and they are very tired and I think the hardest thing for nurses in Utah and across the country is we don’t have to be in this situation,” said Close.

Nixon said nurses most likely never recovered from the first surge of patients almost more than a year ago.

Close said that’s another thing driving them out.

“Make no mistake, we have nurses terribly traumatized by the level of death,” said Close.

Utah is about to hit 2,500 deaths from COVID-19 and as local health professionals said the deaths are preventable if you get your COVID-19 vaccine.

Nixon added it’s hard to predict an end in sight to this nursing shortage.

“You want them to take care of themselves,” said Nixon. “You want them to have their needs met. It is heartbreaking, and I wish at the moment and time we could give more to them, but the more staff we lose, the harder it becomes to do more because we are working with even less.” 

Both Nixon and Close said it’s not the bed that saves your life or takes care of you; it’s the nurse and the staff.

Nixon said something is going to have to give in this nursing shortage because there may be a point when a patient may not receive quality care or any care at all.

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