HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Nursing shortages continue to affect Texas and the Rio Grande Valley as the third wave of COVID-19 cases continues to overwhelm hospitals with new COVID patients.
Health experts have been saying for weeks that the problem the RGV is facing now is not a lack of physical beds, those are plentiful. Rather, it’s a lack of nurses to monitor and care for patients in those beds that is the biggest concern we face with this surge of hospitalizations.
Two weeks ago Hidalgo County Health Authority Dr. Ivan Melendez reported that Hidalgo County had enough hospital staff to monitor around half of their 2,000 hospital beds.
Hospitals are trying desperately to fill much-needed positions, but with every hospital looking to shore up their staff, getting available nurses to work for your hospital is tough. “There’s just so much competition out there right now,” said Ruben Mireles, the director of HR at Harlingen Medical Center.
After 18 months of the pandemic, burnout for nurses is taking its toll. Those nurses that are left have their pick of work opportunities that are “high paying”.
“It’s an open market right now,” said Mireles. “[Nurses are] free to move around as they want right now, so, it’s very competitive.”
If you drive past Harlingen Medical Center on Expressway 83, you might see their marquee advertising them hiring Telemetry registered nurses, but you might not know what that is.
Telemetry nurses monitor heart rate monitors and observe EKG reports to identify dangerous heart rhythms that might require more advanced care or observation.
Lori Feucht, the RN director for ICU, Telemetry and Dialysis at Harlingen Medical Center, told ValleyCentral that the hospital currently has six telemetry nurses, but are hoping to hire four more in the coming months.
The surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations is the driving factor behind the decision.
“[Telemetry nurses] would be assisting with COVID patients, they would be managing their daily care, medications that need to be given, oxygen levels,” explained Feucht.
Telemetry nurses require more training than Med-Surg nurses, which is usually the entry-level position nurses get at a hospital before going into a specialization, such as telemetry. Telemetry nurses require more training because they deal with patients who have severe medical issues.
Feucht said that telemetry is a “higher level of care” than Med-Surg, but below the ICU. “These are patients that are at risk of converting to ICU-type patients.
COVID can indirectly affect your heart, so nurses who specialize in that type of care like telemetry nurses or cardiovascular nurses are in extra demand. To entice applicants, Harlingen medical center is offering top dollar.
Harlingen Medical Center is offering telemetry nurses “a $15,000 sign-on bonus” for signing a contract to work there.
But the hospital is looking to beef up staff at all levels of care, they’re offering a $10,000 sign-on bonus for Med-Surg nurses as well.
“We’re trying to do as best we can to be as competitive as we can,” said Mireles.
Mireles told ValleyCentral that the hospitals all over the Rio Grande Valley are stretched thin right now, but there isn’t an immediate concern that patients won’t be cared for.
The Department of State Health Services COVID-19 hospitalization dashboard shows that the Rio Grande Valley (TSA V) has around 2,700 hospital beds in the region but fewer than 400 open hospital beds available as of August 16.