COVID-19 pandemic pushed many healthcare workers to the brink, as some nurses attest

Like it did for many people, the pandemic shook Matt Hotchkiss and his family’s world. 

"My wife was out of work, and we needed to figure out how we were going to replace her income," said Hotchkiss.

His wife works in event planning, which was shut down during the pandemic. He was a registered nurse working on the front lines as a manager at the Hunter’s Creek ER. He then went to Arizona to help COVID-19 patients. He says it was overwhelming. "With COVID and everything, you have so many people walking through the doors that you have to get them in and out and moved onto the next step in order to take care of the mass amounts of people that were coming in," said Hotchkiss.

The stress got to be too much. "It’s really not what a lot of us signed up for." He decided to leave. He and his wife are now opening a Massage Luxe franchise in Ocoee this summer. It’s a perfect way, he says, to meld his healthcare background with work that’s less intense. 

"This allows me to stay within that general practice. It’s more of an alternative medicine, but we can help people stay out of hospitals, stay out of doctors’ offices by helping them with their stress."

As Matt looks ahead to his new business, he says his nursing days are likely over, and he’s not alone. So many people have left. The nursing shortage is grim and projected to only get worse. According to the Florida Hospital Association, in 2019, there was already a shortage of more than 17,000 nurses statewide. By 2035, that number is expected to grow to a shortage of 59,000 nurses. This data is the latest from the organization, but it was put together before the pandemic, meaning that the shortfall could grow even larger.

The Florida Nurses Association told FOX 35, "COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on the nursing workforce." 

But the shortage stems not only from the pandemic. They say it’s also because of pay disparities, the aging nursing population, and the physical demand of the work – not that opening a new business isn’t stressful.

"But it’s a different type of stress. You’re not on your feet for 12 hours, trying to take care of people, dealing with people that are essentially at their worst and scared," said Hotchkiss.

Hotchkiss has advice for anyone questioning leaving their job. "If you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, it’s incredibly scary but you need to take the steps forward just to find something that’s going to make you happy."