Nebraska Is Recruiting Unvaccinated Nurses to Fill Staff Shortage

The state is making an unconventional attempt to fill the ranks of its health care facilities as new cases surge.,


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Nebraska is recruiting unvaccinated nurses to plug a staffing shortage.

Medical professionals sanitizing at a coronavirus testing site in Omaha, Neb., last year.
Medical professionals sanitizing at a coronavirus testing site in Omaha, Neb., last year.Credit…Calla Kessler for The New York Times
  • Aug. 26, 2021, 7:19 a.m. ET

Health officials in Nebraska are so desperate for staff that they are recruiting unvaccinated nurses, an unconventional attempt to plug the shortage of nurses as the state battles a surge in coronavirus cases.

The advertisements for unvaccinated nurses are popping up on postcards, on Facebook and on state job postings: “$5,000 sign-on bonus!” and “No mandated Covid-19 vaccinations,” the notices say. The ads are for positions in veterans’ homes, psychiatric treatment facilities and other locations.

State Senator Carol Blood first heard about the advertisements on Monday, she said, when she was inundated with messages from constituents criticizing the outreach.

“Our health care professionals were calling my office in tears,” she said. “It’s a slap in the face to them.”

New cases in Nebraska have jumped, with hospitalizations rising to the highest level since January, according to a New York Times database. Nebraska’s nurses, like health care workers across the country, are a year and a half into a relentless battle to care for Covid patients. The latest and most severe cases, across the country, are among those who have yet to be vaccinated.

As the highly contagious Delta variant pummels the United States, nurses are reporting that they feel depleted and traumatized, their ranks thinned by early retirements or career shifts that traded the emergency room for less stressful jobs.

Gov. Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, a Republican, directed the state authorities to recruit unvaccinated nurses, said Taylor Gage, a spokesman for the governor.

“The state responded with this campaign so nurses throughout Nebraska know that state government is an alternative career choice,” Mr. Gage said in a statement.

The decision came after eight state hospitals mandated vaccines for their employees, KETV reported.

Ms. Blood, a Democrat, wrote a letter to the governor on Monday criticizing the recruitment scheme, saying the state’s decision was “of grave concern to myself and countless people in my district.”

“I do understand that we have a serious shortage of staff,” she wrote. “With that said, putting those who live in these facilities at risk because we need to find bodies to hire is not acceptable.”

Ms. Blood said on Wednesday night that she had not received a reply from the governor’s office.

The surge is being driven by the highly contagious Delta variant and low vaccination rates, health experts said. The authorities in Nebraska are struggling to vaccinate its citizens, with only 57 percent of people at least partially vaccinated. The national rate is 61 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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