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'Send as many as you’ve got' | Houston student nurses tapped to help out stressed hospitals

“Even simple things like checking vital signs, checking blood sugar, things that take a lot of time of the nurse," Dr. Joseph Varon with UMMC said.

HOUSTON — The surge in COVID-19 patients is causing hospitals to get creative in finding enough staff to treat them.

On Wednesday, the Harris Health System received its first batch of crisis nurses from out of state. But they’ll also be getting some relief from our own backyards, with Houston nursing students stepping up to the plate.

At United Memorial Medical Center, about 40 nursing students from Lone Star College are currently undergoing their application process to become possibly permanent nurses, hoping to take some pressure off some very exhausted employees.

It’s no secret that hospitals in Houston and across the state are dealing with a lot.

“We are all struggling, because we have a lot of patients and unfortunately, no hospital has enough personnel," said Dr. Joseph Varon, Chief of Critical Care at UMMC.

Dr. Varon said the situation is both critical and chaotic, especially when it comes to their nursing shortage.

“There are even hospitals fighting with other hospitals and literally stealing nurses, one from the other," Dr. Varon said.

But relief is on the way from these nursing students.

“What I've been told is send as many as you’ve got," said College Mario K. Castillo, COO and General Counsel at Lone Star College. “These hospitals are hiring our students, so these aren’t internships. They’re actual employment.”

Castillo said the new program was prompted by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and will help get first- and second-year nursing students hired at three different hospitals -- Lyndon B. Johnson, UMMC and Ben Taub -- to relieve the burden brought on by COVID patients.

“Even simple things like checking vital signs, checking blood sugar. Things that take a lot of time of the nurse," Dr. Varon said.

“So that nurses that are not having to do that can then be re-dedicated to the COVID-19 wards," Castillo said.

The students will work under experienced nurses and will not be assigned to COVID units. But it’s on-the -job training that gives both the nurses and the students a big break.

“Really the hospitals could keep these people employed for the rest of their careers," Castillo said.

Sam Houston State University said it is also looking into similar partnerships with local hospitals. it expects to have their nursing students hired within this semester.

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