By Robbie Owens

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – The nation’s nursing shortage was a crisis brewing before COVID-19 arrived. And now soaring case numbers — coupled with the economics of supply and demand — are pushing many hospitals into a financial situation that some call “unsustainable.”

“We are seeing the nurses leave their regular full time jobs to chase those rn (as needed) traveller positions because of the salaries that are offered to them,” says Cori Snarr, HR manager at Hunt Regional Medical Center in Greenville. “And that makes it hard on the hospitals to get back to having a full staff.”

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Ongoing staffing shortages forced the Hunt Regional Medical Center to temporarily close its Commerce emergency room in order to shift staff to its larger hospital in Greenville: blaming a combination of too many patients, not enough staff and costs soaring to hire temporary nurses.

And it’s a situation that’s playing out around the state.

“I am faced with a workforce who is tired, overworked and constantly under siege,” says Esmaeil Porsa, MD, President & CEO, Harris Health System.

Dr. Porsa testified along with Parkland’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joseph Chang before a state Senate committee on the surge earlier this week. “I have lost staff to fatigue and retirement. I have lost staff to COVID infection, and I have lost staff to unfair, ridiculously high paying jobs by temporary staffing agencies.”

Dr. Porsa told lawmakers that his costs for temporary medical staff has increased exponentially during the pandemic, sharing “we were approached by a temporary agency demanding a rate of $286 an hour… for nursing staff.”

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“Staffing needs are real, and they impact everyone,” says Stephen Love, President & CEO of the DFW Hospital Council. “They may go to the emergency room and say ‘my goodness, I didn’t know I’d have to wait this long.’ You’re being impacted even though you’re being treated for a non covid condition.”

Parkland’s Dr. Chang told lawmakers this week that he has some 470 nursing positions that he has been unable to fill — and the staffing shortages have forced the hospital in recent weeks to divert maternity patients to other hospitals and pause some preventative care.

“I had to make the difficult decision to close certain clinics that are providing vital primary care, preventative care to bring staff in to work the more acute areas,” said Dr. Chang. “That’s an exponential effect! If I can’t stop disease on the front end, they will eventually come to the hospital and need more acute care, and that’s not good for anybody. Least of all our patients.”

Other Parkland leaders compared the soaring salaries to disaster pricing.

“The market and traveler agencies are driving up salaries,” says Donna Richardson DNP, RN, NEA-BC, Senior V.P. & Chief Nursing Officer Parkland Health & Hospital System. “Parkland can’t compete and can’t find staffing to cover our nursing needs. It’s like buying gas in a hurricane. It just keeps going up.”

And while the soaring salaries are a challenge for hospital systems, other leaders warn that the emotional toll of this post-vaccine surge also driving some staffers from the field.

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“I talked to a CEO just the other day or who had a nurse who had worked a double shift and just sat down and cried,” says Stephen Love, DFW Hospital Council, “because of the loss of life, because of the fatigue and because so much of this could be avoided if people would get vaccinated.”