Short-staffed and overwhelmed, Lee Health offers bonuses to staff who work extra shifts

Hospitals are overwhelmed and understaffed in Southwest Florida.

Hundreds of patients are hospitalized with COVID-19 in Lee County, adding to the caseload and leaving hospitals trying to find a way to keep up.

Lee Health reported Wednesday afternoon they have 492 COVID patients in their hospitals, and they believe it’s only going to keep getting worse.

An official said they got by the past few weeks and even last year, but they worry about the next few weeks.

The quality of care can’t change, but the cost – to the hospital, at least – has to.

Lee Health sent an email to staff with some big bonus incentives, saying, “We understand you are tired, weary and have been working incredibly hard, but unfortunately, we are not out of the woods yet.”

Even the patients are seeing how exhausted the frontline workers are.

“I do have to say if you’re going to come to the hospital, just understand that they are overwhelmed. These nurses and doctors are working around the clock,” said Shannon Ruvelas, a patient at Cape Coral Hospital. “Then outside of every room are beds with people, they’re just people that are sick, they cannot go home. And so they are stretched.”

“What our staff is probably feeling is like they’ve been running a marathon and they can see the finish line and they thought they were coming to the finish line, and someone grabbed the finish line and ticket 25 miles away, and now they’ve got to run another marathon all over again, and that is heartbreaking,” said Armando Llechu, Lee Health’s chief officer of hospital operations.

Llechu said they had to get creative and reach deep into their pockets, incentivizing people to pick up extra shifts. One extra shift per week for 12 weeks as an RN could earn that person a $6,000 bonus. One extra shift per pay period, a $3,000 bonus.

“When you consider that we have thousands of nurses, if just 500 of them agreed to pick up one extra per week for the next 12 weeks, the number of patients that we could care for grows exponentially,” Llechu said.

The health system also had to move nurses from clinical roles back to bedsides – 67 of them.

“The difference is that last year, our peak was 372 COVID positive patients admitted,” Llechu said.

“We could be seeing that number grow significantly over the next couple of weeks.”

Reporter:Dannielle Garcia
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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