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Tennessee fund that helps hospitals with staffing expenses, is near depletion

COVID-19 hospital nurse
Posted at 4:59 PM, Sep 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-03 19:18:05-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Tennessee's Hospital Staffing Assistance Program, which has helped area hospitals hire travel nurses, pay overtime and keep up with other staffing-related expenses during the pandemic, is near depletion.

The fund started last September with $100 million but is now down to just $10 million.

"We’re spreading people quite thin, particularly in this COVID time," said Robin Steaban, Chief Nursing Officer for Vanderbilt University Medical Center's Adult Hospital.

Steaban says there was already a nursing shortage before the pandemic, but now, it's off the charts. "Every single day, just all day long, we are working at how where our nurses are going to be, where they’re coming from, and where that demand is," said Steaban.

So to keep staffing up, hospitals like VUMC hire traveling nurses that often fly in from other parts of the country to help fill in the gaps. But that has gotten expensive. "The market demand drives up the rate, so it’s very costly, but it is very difficult," said Steaban.

With so many traveling nurses in demand, Steaban calls it a bidding war that has broken out between hospitals and has even pitted states against each other.

Now that the Hospital Staffing Assistance Program is so low on funding, the Tennessee Department of Health has raised the threshold for which local hospitals even qualify for funding. That's made a staffing crisis, even worse. "We will staff our beds to the best of our ability, stretching staff to be able to take care of these patients, but there is a finite limit to what we’re able to do," said Steaban.

A spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Health tells NewsChannel 5 that they're looking at other ways to fund the program. As for what we can do, Steaban says, get vaccinated.

"This COVID crisis will damage us in the end in terms of nursing being so fatigued and so spent, they will burn out and leave the profession and so we really need to turn this COVID thing around as fast we can," she said.

It should come as no surprise, on Tennessee's employment website, nurses are listed as the most needed job field, and it isn't even close.