Triad health departments need more nurses, other staff to provide contact tracing and COVID testing

Piedmont Triad News

(WGHP) — At least two health departments report a shortage of nurses amid concerns about the spread of the omicron variant.

Health directors in Guilford and Forsyth counties say recruiting and retention has been more challenging than ever.

In Guilford County, there are approximately 30 open nursing positions, including school nurses, clinic and community nurses, and supervisors.

In Forsyth County, the health department has a 26% vacancy rate overall. The vacancy rate among nurses is 43%.

“We depend on nurses to be able to provide these services to the community,” Dr. Iulia Vann said Thursday. “Our team members are being burned out, they’re having struggles with their childcare, so a lot of them had to choose their families over their profession. It’s really difficult to bring them on board.”

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is funding 23 positions to alleviate a possible post-holiday strain, but they are not nurses.

“We knew that it was going to be very difficult to bring on board and train and onboard nurses specifically, and that’s why we really appreciated the fact that the state allowed us to be flexible with the type of positions that we’re hiring,” Vann said.

The Forsyth County Department of Health and Human Services hopes to boost the pipeline of nurses from schools like Winston-Salem State University.

Right now the nursing school has a decreased number of applications, and fewer faculty available to teach.

“We need to get them out of nursing school, and we can train them to do what we need them to do, if we can’t even get them out of nursing school then we can’t help our workforce at all,” Deputy County Manager Shontell Robinson said.

Robinson hopes premium pay will serve as a retention tool for existing nurses, giving qualified employees $1-2 thousand Dec. 17.

“Everyone will benefit from that, it’s funding through the American Rescue Plan Act, and there are categories of how you’re eligible,” she said.

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