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Florida nurses say they need more PPE, staffing to fight COVID-19

Nurses across the nation and on the First Coast are raising concerns saying there is a nurse shortage and it could affect care as cases of COVID-19 rise.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — A nurse shortage is not something you want to hear especially during a pandemic when many lives rely on these caregivers. Nurses around the country and on the First Coast are speaking out about the struggles they’re facing as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

“We are spread so thin right now," said David Combs. He's a nurse in Putnam County.

He says he knew the hospital he works at needed more nurses the day he had to take care of six patients. He’s a charge nurse so he oversees the other nurses and doesn’t usually have patients, but he stepped in.

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“This has been something going on actually for years and with the pandemic, it’s just pushing us beyond the limits," Combs said. "We were barely getting by as it was.”

Combs's concerns are here at home, but there are nurses around the nation that are speaking out about the shortage of PPE and nurses.

“Florida is a hot mess," said Marissa Lee, a labor and delivery nurse in Osceola, Fl. She was one of several nurses speaking out on a Zoom call with National Nurses United union leaders.

The union says their latest survey of nurses shows more than 80 percent of hospitals have no surge capacity planning.

“I don’t know how much longer we are going to be able to hold this," said Consuelo Vargas, a nurse in Illinois. "We need everyone to wear masks. It needs to happen.”

Vargas and other nurses became emotional on the Zoom conference saying they need help from the state and federal government. 

Combs has written letters to Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. He says he has heard back from Rubio's office and has a meeting on December 3rd with someone from his staff.

“This is just unacceptable," Combs said about the nurse shortage. "People are going to die. There are going to be medical errors. It’s just not what we went to school to be a nurse for. This is not it.”

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We reached out to hospitals in Jacksonville. Mayo Clinic, Ascension St. Vincent's, and Baptist Health Jacksonville all got back to us saying they are hiring nurses, but they did not say they are experiencing a shortage.

Ascension St. Vincent's said "The health and safety of our patients, associates, and our community remains a top priority. The COVID-19 pandemic has put an additional strain on frontline caregivers, including nurses, at healthcare organizations around the nation and the world. Ascension St. Vincent’s has increased its pool of on-call associates and continues to supplement its workforce with traveling nurses and short-term contract labor to support increased volumes due to COVID-19. Additionally, we are able to leverage the strength of our regional and national health system to ensure we have the necessary resources to meet our community’s needs."

Baptist Health Jacksonville said "Like most health systems, we are constantly working to recruit and retain the best nursing staff. Some nursing positions are highly specialized and can take longer to fill. One of our strategies is to develop from within, by encouraging our nurses to continually advance in their profession. We also partner with academic institutions to help us cultivate tomorrow's clinical workforce."