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Louisiana hospitals grappling with nurse shortage

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BATON ROUGE - The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a new spotlight on the need for more nurses. Demand has grown in nearly every state, and it's no different in Baton Rouge. 

Monica Nijoka is the Chief Nursing Officer at Baton Rouge General. She says nursing isn't just a job, but a calling.

"To go through what we went through this past year, it's definitely a calling for all of us," she said.

On a mission to serve, Nijoka has spent more than 40 years in a profession that's facing a severe shortage.

"Some of our seasoned nurses have decided to retire, stay home and raise their grandchildren, or just do something totally different," Nijoka said.

Before the pandemic, the state's nursing shortage was projected to quadruple by 2025. That's according to the Louisiana Hospital Association.

Missy Sparks with Ochsner Health says COVID-19 has intensified the shortage, and highlights a need for nurses with training and experience.

"I would say our greatest opportunity is helping our schools increase their ability to accept qualified applicants. If we can get that to happen, the entire state is going to win," Sparks said.

The shortage of nurses has been an area of concern for years. This comes as the state deals with a lack of teaching faculty at nursing schools, and restrictions on class sizes.

"There are more people that apply for nursing school than are getting in. It's not because they don't qualify but because we don't have the faculty or the ability to expand the program," Sparks said.

Lawmakers recently came up with a possible solution, funding measures to increase school capacity and allowing more nurses to be trained each year. The law goes into effect Aug. 1.

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