LENOIR — While the nursing shortage loomed across the nation and state before the pandemic began, the situation has only become more dire.

Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute (CCC&TI) and Caldwell UNC Healthcare are working together to meet the growing demand as the county is also experiencing a nursing shortfall.

“Caldwell UNC Healthcare has partnered with Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute to rapidly address the need for additional professional staff in the region.” Laura Easton, president and chief executive officer of Caldwell UNC Health Care, said in an email.

The American Association of International Healthcare Recruitment (AAIHR) website stated, “Even before the pandemic, emergency and critical care nurses were among the most in-demand in the health care sector.” This was true on a state level as well. In an article published by the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (UNC) on Nov. 8, North Carolina faced “shortages of 12,500 registered nurses — about 11% of the RN workforce — and 5,000 licensed practical nurses — about 27% of the LPN workforce” before COVID.

As the new variant of the COVID pandemic continues to gain momentum, Caldwell County faces a shortage of healthcare workers.

“The pandemic has resulted in major increases in hospitalizations, critical emergency room visits and urgent care visits. These surges have placed tremendous demands on nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, nurse aides, medical office assistants and all support staff at Caldwell UNC Healthcare and hospitals across the region and state,” Easton said.

Recently, the Mayo Clinic released 700 of its employees for failing to comply with COVID vaccination policy mandates. Caldwell UNC Healthcare also mandates vaccinations. Although an exact figure has not been released, Caldwell UNC Healthcare has released workers for not complying with vaccination protocols, according to a spokesman for the hospital.

The Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Program on Health Workforce Research and Policy analyzes RN and LPN workforce data using the interactive “Nursecast’’ tool, which was unveiled in November, 2021. The “Projection of Nurse Workforce, Supply — Demand” tool estimates a demand for 105,738 RNs, with a supply of 103,971 RNs; and a demand for 19,188 LPNs, with a supply of 17,801 LPNs fore North Carolina in 2023.

Locally, it is estimated that by 2023 the Northwest Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) counties of Alexander, Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, Davidson, Davie, Forsyth, Iredell, Rowan, Stokes, Surry, Watauga, Wilkes, and Yadkin will continue to experience a shortage of both RNs and LPNs. Estimates for the Northwest AHEC region projects a demand for a total of 16,515 RNs, with a supply of 15,446 RNs; and a demand for a total of 2,962 LPNs, with a total supply of 2,770.

In an effort to meet the rising need for healthcare workers, hospitals across the U.S. are using alternative practices to meet employment needs. The Billings Clinic in Billings, Montana recruits foreign workers who meet educational, certification, and licensing standards. According to the AAIHR website, “as much as 15% of U.S. nurses were foreign educated.” Other hospitals are contracting with travel nurses.

As of last Friday, Caldwell UNC Healthcare was recruiting for 26 registered nurse positions. CCC&TI and Caldwell UNC Healthcare have met regularly to find solutions to snowballing demand for nurses.

“We’re working with them [Caldwell UNC Healthcare] to find creative, outside-the-box ways to address healthcare worker shortages,” Barbara Harris, dean of health services, CCC&TI, said in an email.

CCC&TI offers an extensive list of health science programs. Their nursing programs including: Nurse Aide (CNA), Practical Nursing (LPN) and Associate Degree in Nursing (RN).

Caldwell County’s health leaders continue to address the growing need of RNs and LPNs.

“Our goal is to respond to industry needs while at the same time preparing our graduates to enter the workforce.” Harris said.

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