Critical nursing shortage in Florida spurs call for retired medical professionals to return to work

9 Investigates reporter Daralene Jones examined data not yet made public that shows Central Florida has thousands of registered nurses who aren't working as calls for help grow.

ORLANDO, Fla. — With new numbers shedding additional light on Florida’s already critical nursing shortage, the state is taking steps to get retired and soon-to-graduate medical professionals to work as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

9 Investigates worked with the Florida Center for Nursing, based at the University of Central Florida, to obtain the new numbers that add to the narrative that hospitals are already stretched thin because of a statewide critical nursing shortage.

“They’re already fatigued and so we’re adding this, which is not only workload, it’s also emotional and it’s also psychological. Their families are at risk,” said Mary Lou Brunnell, executive director of the Florida Center for Nursing.

Content Continues Below

At a state level, the new numbers show there are 324,000 nurses licensed to work in Florida but only 236,000 are working.

Gov. Ron DeSantis pleaded this week for retired medical professionals to return to the workforce to help meet the need.

Retired nurse Ann-Lynn Denker said she is ready to answer the call.

“It's going to be greatly needed,” she said. “It appears that this epidemic is growing.”

The new data shows for the east central region of Florida, from Flagler County down to Osceola County, where 52,000 nurses are licensed to work in local hospitals but only 43,000 are working.

Universities across the state are working closely with accrediting bodies, allowing online simulations in an effort to accelerate the progress of nursing students close to graduation.

They will also be required to pass state and national exams.

And though there’s also a shortage of advanced registered nurses and LPNs, of all health-care workers, registered nurses are able to meet the most needs and demands.

“They can do assessments and they can do triage, both of which are critical in this time,” Brunnell said.

Experts said if we see a surge of patients in the next few weeks and available nurses don't step up now, the state could be playing catch up like New York, which is pleading for help from nurses from other states. And that, they said, could put further strain on the health care system.

For more information on how you can help, reach out to the Florida Board of Nurses or Department of Health, which licenses nurses in Florida.

Download the WFTV news app and watch Channel 9 Eyewitness News for live updates on this developing story, or click here to have updates sent straight to your inbox.

Gov. DeSantis signed an executive order that suspends Florida law for retired law enforcement officers, first responders, emergency management and public safety personnel and health and medical professionals.