Nurses getting assigned more patients as COVID-19 impacts staffing levels

Medical staff wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) work in a hospital. (FOX 9)

Thursday’s single-day COVID-19 case record of more than 7,000 newly confirmed cases comes with several side effects: fuller hospitals and less hospital staff.

“Every day we could be five to six intensive care nurses short or we could be anywhere from seven to nine medical surge nurses short and that puts a lot of pressure on your co-workers to still give that high quality care,” said Angela Becchetti, a nurse at Abbott Northwestern in Minneapolis and the Minnesota Nurses Association representative for the hospital.

More healthcare workers are becoming infected with COVID-19 or exposed to the virus, which means those who are able to work are being asked to do more with less.

“You have that larger patient assignment, that’s less time that nurse gets to spend with you,” said Becchetti.

Becchetti says at Abbott Northwestern they’re being asked to increase nurse-to-patient ratios and do emergency COVID charting.

“That’s a concern for us that we’re now going to very minimalistic charting,” she said. “That’s a huge safety concern especially for our patients, but also for our license as well.”

Allina Health, which runs Abbott Northwestern, told FOX 9 they’re looking at options like contracting with traveling nurses and utilizing in house programs to manage hospital volumes.

Mary Turner, the president of the Minnesota Nurses Association, says she’s hearing from anxious nurses all over the state.

“Everybody has it now, so now you’ve got a situation where I feel like the whole union, the whole state of Minnesota, the nurses are hyper alert,” said Turner.

Turner says one option might be for systems to spread out non-emergency surgeries in order to keep more hospital beds open. She says something even easier is to wear your mask out in public.

“Please, please do it for the doctors and nurses and other frontline workers that want to be there if you need us,” said Turner.

The Minnesota Department of Health is also reminding people this is not the time you want to be in the hospital because of non-COVID-19 emergencies either. They warn there may not be enough beds available if the COVID-19 spread doesn’t get under control.