HOUSTON - We're in the midst of a critical nursing shortage, and Texas is the second-hardest hit state with less than 10 nurses per 1,000 people.
This has been going on for years, but the pandemic accelerated the problem to a whole new crisis level.
HCA Houston Healthcare Clear Lake and the Mainland campus joined forces with the University of Houston to figure out how to solve the problem.
First, they tried to figure out what is stressing out nurses the most.
"The pandemic has taken a toll on all of us. I can truly say that with certainty. I myself have experienced watching our nursing teams and our colleagues struggle each and every day. The fear of taking COVID home to your families, the fear of not knowing if you'll get sick enough to be in our ICU and the fear of watching what we've seen, is traumatic," says Sherry Camacho, Chief Nursing Officer at HCA Houston Healthcare Clear Lake.
More than 300 nurses at HCA were able to share openly and honestly how they're feeling through a confidential study conducted by UH. "To say, how are you feeling? What is going on? What do you need in your current workforce," questions Sherry.
The results are disturbing and eye-opening. Most nurses are suffering severe burn-out, thus the mass exodus from the field of medicine.
Dr. Teresa McIntyre is a clinical psychologist with UH and realizes the seriousness of the nurses' responses.
"Both in terms of dealing with death and dying, moral conflict, shortages of staff, lack of resources, disruptions to their family and social routines, things like for instance, not even being able to do their groceries or picking up their kids from school or taking care of their elderly parents. So, a huge disruption and a huge amount of stress that they haven't been facing before," says Dr. McIntyre.
Nurses were often elevated and referred to as heroes in the beginning stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. "But being a hero came with a very heavy cost, in terms of their emotional and their physical well-being and even intention to stay with the profession," explains Dr. McIntyre.
Realizing all this, administrators are now offering nurses their very own wellness program at HCA Houston Healthcare Clear Lake.
They are able to take a break from their nursing duties and do anything from yoga, work out in a gym, relax in the Zen Lounge, and even get a massage. It's helping them a lot!
Nurses at HCA say they feel more uplifted since they get to pause at work to focus on their own well-being. They're being paired up to network and work through trials and tribulations together. They also get to enjoy quiet, healing moments with a therapy dog.
"All of those tokens, from little to big, means that somebody behind the scenes cares about us and that they are planning and they are thinking about us and that our well-being matters. All those little goodie bags and the yoga sessions and food trucks coming for lunch to help take the stress off of lunch, even the Zen lounge, that means that somebody is working after hours to provide for us," says Madison Chollette, RN at HCA Houston Healthcare Clear Lake.
Every week, here comes the welcome wagon, overflowing with gifts. They get cards with positive affirmations that go a long way to better their days, plus they're a nice reminder for us all. One says, "Be the reason someone smiles today!"
It's important to note that this nursing shortage is an international problem. The survey shows nurses everywhere are feeling the same way, but this study will hopefully help hospitals find unique ways to conquer the stressors, especially during disasters, to help prevent burnout.