LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky is plagued by a growing shortage of nurses, and a new survey indicates that the shortage is driven by several factors, including low pay, overwork, exhaustion and increasingly hostile patients.

The Kentucky Nurses Association (KNA) polled 850 nurses from across the state. Roughly one-quarter said they plan to leave their current jobs within the next three months.

"I've been a nurse for more than 40 years, and I have never experienced what is happening to us right now, during this pandemic of COVID-19," Delanor Manson of the Kentucky Nurses Association. “They're exhausted, they're tired, but they keep showing up.”

But they are showing up in few numbers.

The survey indicates that the top reasons for dissatisfaction among nurses include a heavy patient load, low pay, physical exhaustion, fear of transmitting COVID-19 to family members and a lack of support staff.

“Kentucky is one of those states that I would consider to be on the verge of - if not already at — a crisis — very close to a crisis,” said Ernest Grant, president of the American Nurses Association.

Nurses are also reporting increasing levels of both physical and verbal abuse from patients and their families.

"All because of the pandemic, and one's beliefs that it's not real," said Kristin Pickerell, of the Kentucky Organization of Nurse Leaders. "We've had instances where we've had upset patients and family members. And that's just been a very high level of stress for nurses ... to have that flip from heroes, to not at this point."

States with even more severe shortages are hiring nurses away from Kentucky. Additionally, nurses are increasingly abandoning hospitals and nursing homes to become higher-paid traveling nurses.

“Literally, all the nurse has to do is pretty much pocket their paycheck because they will also pay room and board, give them a food stipend,” said Grant.

The KNA is asking the state to use $100 million in American Rescue Plan funds for providing bonuses to nurses who have worked through the pandemic, forgiving student loans to those who work in underserved areas, creating a nurse emeritus program to hire retired nurses to supplement staffing, and helping nursing schools graduate more students.

“It is a battle, and we have to think of very strategic and out-of-the-box things to retain our nurses right now,” said Pickerell.

If not, the nurses said healthcare will suffer.

“Due to the fact that the number of nurses who do remain are going to be totally exhausted from having work so much,” said Grant.

The Nurses Association also hopes to launch a campaign to recruit more nursing students and show appreciation to those already on the front lines.

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