ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico‘s nursing shortage is being highlighted by the recent spike in COVID-19 cases, and many people delaying care during the pandemic, until now. Health officials say many hospitals are relying heavily on traveling nurses from out of state to help.

Last September, there were about 6,200 job openings for registered nurses in our state, according to a report from the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions. That same report expects New Mexico to have the worst shortage in the country in less than a decade.

“We’ve got a serious shortage of nurses now,” Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase said during a press conference on Wednesday. The state’s top doctor made a call out to retired nurses to help in the fight against this latest COVID surge. “We are going to need more nurses in the state and so just a call out now for nurses to look for open opportunities and help us all fight back this new variant.”

The New Mexico Hospital Association said the number of agency, or travel nurses, coming into the state to help local hospitals is increasing dramatically. “We have some facilities that are 35-percent to 40-percent of their current nursing staff are being filled by agency,” NMHA CEO Troy Clark stated.

Clark adds that hospitals across the state are either full or fuller than normal, in part, because of non-COVID patients. That includes those who delayed care because of the pandemic.

“We have a huge demand right now for all patients,” Clark explained.

Clark emphasized the state’s nursing shortage existed even before the pandemic.

The latest data from the state’s Department of Workforce Solutions predicts that by 2030, there will be more than 1,200 annual job openings for registered nurses in New Mexico, and not enough new staff to replace those who are retiring or transferring to another profession.

“We are not in a dire situation. We are at a very heightened awareness situation,” Clark added. Moving forward, Clark believes the state needs more nursing educators and nursing students.

“If we increase the number to come from our state, the higher likelihood they stay in New Mexico and don’t become mobile like many of our workforce we see that leave the state,” Clark said.

The UNM College of Nursing said it has been working on recruiting more nursing students.

Read the Workforce Solutions report below: