RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota is facing a shortage of nurses at a time when they are needed most, officials say.
Stress, long hours and fear of infection during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have caused more nurses than usual to leave the field, move to other states or retire early.
From 2015 to 2016, about 1,700 registered nurses left South Dakota. Last year, more than 2,500 nurses dropped out of the state workforce.
“The pandemic just kind of burned them out,” said Michelle Bruns, a spokeswoman for the nursing program at Oglala Lakota College. “It’s a tough situation.”
The state higher-education system has not produced enough nursing graduates to keep up with a growing population and rising demand for health care services, and educators are scrambling to find ways to lure more students and produce degrees more quickly.
A shortage of nurses in other states has raised competition to attract new graduates and experienced providers, but South Dakota health care systems are at a competitive disadvantage because median pay for nurses in the state is the lowest in the nation, according to federal labor data.