Nursing shortage keeps boy in hospital for his 1st birthday


CHICAGO (CBS) – “Wild One” is a theme some parents pick for their baby’s first birthday party, and it’s certainly the way the first year went for one west suburban family.

They’re sad to be celebrating their son’s birthday, in the hospital, when he doesn’t need to be there. CBS 2’s Lauren Victory explained the difficulties of finding a nurse for Nicholas.

Little Lucas Rizo was practicing for his siblings’ big day. Twin brothers Sebastian and Nicholas are about to turn 1 year old. With all the cords Nicholas needs though, the party isn’t happening at home. The celebration for his first year around the sun will be at Lurie Children’s Hospital, but his birthday didn’t have to be this way.

“So two months almost that he’s been able to go home,” said his father, Eric Rizo.

Eric and Carly Rizo’s son has been healthy enough to leave the hospital since April, but day in and day out, he’s stuck in his bed, while mom and dad constantly swap shifts. One stays at home in Montgomery with the other kids, the other with doctors downtown.

“Being everyone apart is just so – there’s just this raw disconnect of something’s not right,” said Eric.

“Always,” Carly added.

The problem stems from doctors’ orders that “in-home private duty nursing services are essential for Nicholas to be safely discharged.”

Mom and dad are trained on this equipment, but medical experts worry they can’t fully care for Nicholas and watch over his brothers.

“The ventilator is basically his life,” Carly said. “So without somebody monitoring him 24/7, it could be drastic real quick.”

The hunt for help at home began before the little guy was cleared, a four-month buffer to find a nurse for Nicholas.

“We started with one nursing agency,” Eric said. “They didn’t have much luck.”

Even with a more than $24,000 a month budget from Medicaid, it turned out, that’s not enough and they’re not alone.

“I would say the situation is dire,” said Kathleen Flynn, Aveanna Healthcare’s area clinical director.

“Probably I get 50 cases a week that they’re looking for staffing for,” said Kelly Hoyle, the director of nursing at Continuum Pediatric Nursing.

Flynn and Hoyle are homecare nurse recruiters in Illinois.

“It’s really hit or miss,” Hoyle said. “You could find a nurse in a day or it could take six months, but post-pandemic, it’s definitely made it a lot harder.”

You’ve probably seen the headlines. COVID fatigued led to a shortage of nurses everywhere. Retirements and resignations especially put a squeeze on those with special skills.

“They need to be educated and trained to be able to be on that ICU level,” Flynn said. “So paying them a third of what they would get in the hospital.”

As for the salary issue and why Nicholas’ monthly allowance isn’t cutting it, consider a job posting from Continuum Pediatric Nursing. Hoyle said interviewees are asking for $38 to $50 an hour, but she can only offer $27 to $31. She said Medicaid reimbursement rates limit take-home pay.

Victory: “Have you had to change any of your recruitment tactics?”

Hoyle: “We’ve tried everything. We’ve tried a sign-on bonus. We’ve tried referral bonuses from family, from the nurses and we’re still not getting nurses through the door.”

Some companies hope raising awareness about the heartwarming benefits of the job will help the shortage.

“A lot of nurses don’t know about homecare so we’re trying to educate the school system and the colleges,” Flynn said.

Hoyle added, “You set your own schedule. You work with the family. It’s very flexible.”

Dr. Carolyn Foster’s idea is to allow other types of healthcare providers to work with children with complex medical needs.

“We could actually expand the workforce,” Foster said. “Why can’t we train a certified nursing assistant or home health aide to do it and get more people to be able to be discharged home?”

Foster is also studying the possibility of training, then paying family members, specifically parents, to provide medical care.

“This solves the problem both of lost income and allowing the child to get the care they need,” Foster said.

It also frees up a homecare nurse to match with another family waiting in the wings. They hope for no more empty updates for families like the Rizos from agencies unable to find any nurses to help patients in need.

“I had my hopes up,” Carly said.

“There’s been so many people who’ve said, you’re going to be waiting months, months, months,” Eric said.

Discharge delays are starting to wear on the Rizos, but when Nicholas’ nurse are found, plans are in order to re-celebrate the twins’ first birthday at home.

The Rizos received another update on Monday that still no nurses are available for Nicholas. His birthday is on Thursday.

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