Experts say the healthcare system is feeling massive pressure due to the COVID-related departure of thousands of nurses

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NEW YORK — As the pandemic turns into what officials consider endemic, some of the damage done in the past 24 months will take years to repair.

The healthcare system is still reeling from the pressure of COVID-19, as thousands of nurses have left the profession.

CBS2’s Jessica Moore looks at the dire shortage and what can be done to close the gap between resources and need.

Nurses at Maimonides Hospital in the Bronx recently protested what they called dangerous staffing shortages.

“Recently I worked in a situation where there were only two AIs on the ground, only two AIs for a unit that had five,” said one woman.

“We need more help. It’s not safe for us. It’s not safe for patients,” said another.

Since the start of the pandemic, nearly 400,000 healthcare workers have resigned, retired or died from COVIDleaving a gaping hole in one of the hospital’s most crucial positions.

Travel nurse Gilbert Banda spent months in New York hospitals as the virus raged.

“It was a lot of deaths. I was a nurse for 16 years and I never had to bag body after body,” Banda said.

Pediatric intensive care nurse Sheryl Leo told Moore that her job was her passion, but it was not for the faint of heart.

“Standing there, holding a patient’s hand so they aren’t alone when they die. I have personally experienced that and it stays with you,” Leo said.

Last month, hospitals in 18 states, including New York and New Jersey, reported critical staffing levels. Many nurses say they are burnt out, underpaid and overworked.

“It’s one of the biggest challenges on a daily basis. Maybe I’m supposed to have at most one or two patients, but then I have three and there are three sick patients and I just don’t have not feeling like you can give 100% like I want to give. That’s another reason people get frustrated and burnt out. It makes you feel defeated,” Leo said.

Hospitals typically employ 60-70% nurses and bring in traveling nurses to fill the gap when needed. During the pandemic, those numbers have skyrocketed. A travel nurse agency says Bronx hospitals employed 39% travel nurses in 2020 and increased to 74% in 2021.

Experts say it’s a pipeline problem.

“A whole generation of baby boomer nurses with great experience are retiring. At the same time, nursing schools don’t have enough teachers because this same population is retiring. That means not only nurses , but also educators, to elevate this next group of nursing students coming out of school,” said Lauren Pasquale-Bartlett, Ingenovis Vice President of Marketing.

To make matters worse, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 17% more nurses are needed each year to fill the chronic shortage, yet only 4% of students are studying to become nurses.

“That’s why it’s more important than ever for us to encourage young people — high school students, college students — to consider a health profession, because the needs are greater and the shortage worse,” Pasquale-Bartlett said.

Nurses who change careers tend to look for jobs that bring them less stress and more money.

“Just the value of what you do…you should get paid for what you do,” Leo said.

If the pandemic has taught us anything about the healthcare profession, it’s the value of those who take care of us when we need it most.