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'We can't train them fast enough': Nurse shortages persist as delta variant drives more COVID-19 cases

An instructor at Bellevue College says she's getting a high number of nursing applicants, but can’t train them fast enough to meet the demands of the pandemic.

SEATTLE — As Washington health officials warn of surging COVID-19 cases driven by the delta variant, many on the frontlines say staffing levels at hospitals across the state remain a concern. 

The pandemic has pushed the health care system to its limit and nurses KING 5 spoke with say they are overworked and burnt out. 

“We are facing incredibly dire straits with our staffing. We’ve lost nurses, techs, hospital staff in droves,” said Catherine Teng, an emergency room nurse who did not want to name her employer.

The spread of the delta variant is fueling a fifth wave of the pandemic and hospitals are once again being pushed to capacity, yet nursing schools in Puget Sound are still receiving a high number of applicants. 

“I don’t think its deterred anyone from being a nurse because our applications are still high,” said Lisa Tedeschi, a nurse and instructor at Bellevue College's Nursing School.

Tedeschi says an aging work force combined with pandemic burnout has lead to a shortage in nurses across the state and country – one that nursing schools just can’t keep up with.

“We’ll need a lot of nurses, we can’t train them fast enough,” Tedeschi continued.

The pandemic's impact on nursing is something we’re just beginning to understand. A study by the Washington Center for Nursing released in June of 2021 shows that of more than 400 nurses working during the height of the pandemic, 69% reported COVID-19-related staffing concerns and 42% thought about or made plans to leave the field altogether.

The problems aren't just in emergency rooms, either. Senior living facilities, which were once the center of coronavirus outbreaks, have also felt the impacts of staffing shortages. 

KING 5 reported in July that more than 81% of long-term care facilities reported being short staffed since the start of the pandemic in 2020. 

While staffing shortages persist, the pandemic remains very much alive in Washington state, though this go around it's the unvaccinated who appear to be bearing the brunt of it. 

“I worked the last three days in the ER, I’ve seen a big surge of COVID patients coming in and I would say probably 98, 99 percent of those are unvaccinated and they’re young and they’re sick,” Teng said.