Tennessee nursing shortage could pose risk to healthcare access

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Tennessee is currently experiencing a nursing shortage that could pose a major risk to healthcare, especially in light of the pandemic.  

Tina Gerardi has been a nurse for 41 years. She says Tennessee’s current nursing shortage is unlike any nursing shortage she’s ever seen. If things don’t improve, she says the shortage could impact all areas of health care.   

“There may be closures in some facilities. There may be transfers from the ER to other institutions rather than being admitted to the hospital,” Gerardi said.  

Tennessee already had a nursing shortage before the pandemic, but the surge of COVID-19 has only made matters worse.  

“You have an exhausting day and then you go home, rest for a little bit, you’re back for another exhausting day, you don’t have really time to process the trauma sometimes, the emotional trauma that you see particularly with all the death and dying that is happening, unfortunately, related to the pandemic,” Gerardi said. 

These shortages are also trickling down to home healthcare and long-term healthcare facilities. Gerardi says the taxing workloads placed on nurses has caused many baby boomers to retire.   

Although nursing school enrollment is steady, some are choosing not to stick with the profession.    

“Some of the newer nurses that have come into the profession have been just so overwhelmed by everything that’s going on, they’re leaving the bedside, and some are actually leaving the profession, which is difficult. And all of that added to this particular shortage, which makes it very different from what we’ve seen in the past,” Gerardi said. 

The shortage also takes time away from how much time nurses can spend with each patient. 

Gerardi says the best way to return to normal is to pay nurses more in some parts of the state, give nurses more control over care decisions within their practice, and most importantly, people getting vaccinated and taking steps to cut down on Covid cases. 

“People who are closer to retirement might decide ‘okay, I’ll stay now, we’re kind of over this horrible 18 months’, but if we don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, I’m afraid we will lose more nurses,” Gerardi said.   

For anyone considering going into nursing, the profession offers several perks right now, including things like hiring bonuses and opportunities to move into specialized care sooner out of school.  

“We need you and it is one of the most rewarding things that you can do in your life, is to take care of somebody when they’re most vulnerable,” Gerardi said.  

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