Brooke Hanger-Yates worries the most about the newer nurses — those just out of school who jumped from the classroom straight into a pandemic.

Now the charge nurse of Baptist Health Floyd’s Intensive Care Unit, Hanger-Yates got her foot in the door at the New Albany hospital 17 years ago as a teenager who wanted to see what the profession entailed.

From a unit secretary to leading the ICU, Hanger-Yates’ career has followed an upward trajectory. As consistent as her progress has been her “reason why.”

“I love watching people get better. I love establishing that relationship with patients,” she said. “It’s great when you see someone at their most vulnerable, and then the next week, we’re sending them home.”

Hanger-Yates has witnessed many of those success stories, but COVID-19 has robbed those newer nurses of the same experiences. A nurse working in an ICU during a pandemic deals with death and severe illness daily.

“It’s heartbreaking. It’s sad. It’s scary. It’s frustrating,” Hanger-Yates said. “Nurses just out of nursing school, these are the only patients they know. They don’t know what it’s like to heal, and discharge and have those people come back to see us.”

The ICU patients under her care are the sickest she’s seen during her 12 years as a nurse.

“And it’s hard. It’s hard to keep remembering your ‘why,’ and it’s just a completely different type of nursing,” Hanger-Yates said.

As nurses struggle with the brutality of COVID-19, lawmakers, hospital administrators and workforce officials are grappling with a shortfall that existed before the pandemic.

Legislation being considered at the Statehouse cites that Indiana will need another 5,000 nurses by 2031, as elected officials are considering allowing institutions to ease some rules and increase graduating classes to meet the demand.

But hospitals are already dealing with major shortages, as registered nurses are among the most sought-after employees in the state.


The Indiana Department of Workforce Development reported that registered nurses were either first or second in open job postings in each of the state’s 11 economic growth regions during the fourth quarter of 2021.

Baptist Health Floyd President Mike Schroyer called the nursing shortage a multi-faceted dilemma.

“Right now there are so many opportunities for nurses inside and outside of the hospital, different jobs that have taken a lot of nurses away from the bedside,” said Schroyer, who emphasized that administrators want to see employees advance.

“At the same time, the availability of more nurses just has not been there.”

Some have chosen to become traveling nurses, or have been attracted by state and federal agencies. Other nurses have advanced to administrative positions, such as Schroyer, who is also a registered nurse.

Baptist Health, like many hospitals, has offered incentives to entice new nurses and to retain current staff. From a legislative standpoint, Schroyer supports a measure that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have hailed as a way to address the nursing shortage.


House Bill 1003 advanced in the Indiana House of Representatives last month. Authored by Rep. Ethan Manning, R-Denver, the legislation seeks to grow the nursing pool by allowing eligible associate or bachelor’s degree programs to increase enrollment. The bill also eases some statewide licensing restrictions and allows graduates of foreign nursing schools to be registered or practical nurses in Indiana.

The bill received bipartisan support and included a Democrat co-sponsor in Rep. Rita Fleming, D-Jeffersonville.

“This bipartisan legislation ensures that nurses in the workplace can best serve the needs of our state, while also ensuring that we allow nursing institutions to best educate and serve their student body,” said Fleming, who has also served as a registered nurse and nurse practitioner.

Rep. Karen Engleman, R-Georgetown, voted in favor of the bill and said the state’s nursing shortage is severe.

“The effects of this shortage are felt not only in hospitals, but also in local doctor’s offices, schools and long-term care facilities. We need to take action and ensure there are nurses ready and able to keep Hoosiers healthy.”


While nurses are in great demand, many hospital and health care systems across the state continue to expand.

In Jeffersonville, Baptist Health is constructing a free-standing emergency room and urgent care facility in partnership with Intuitive Health. Just across the street, Clark Memorial Health is also building a free-standing ER in a partnership with Norton Healthcare and LifePoint Health.

As new medical care facilities are built, some health care systems are partnering with institutions to train more nurses.

In December, Ivy Tech Community College Sellersburg announced a $2.5 million commitment from Baptist Health to renovate the school’s health sciences department and laboratory.

“As Indiana’s largest public postsecondary institution and the nation’s largest nursing program, we are uniquely positioned to address the healthcare workforce needs,” said Ivy Tech President Sue Ellspermann. “It is imperative that we do so alongside employer partners such as Baptist Health.”

From supporting educational institutions to incentivizing those already in the profession, Schroyer said addressing the nursing shortfall will require efforts on multiple fronts.

“We have to look at how we can create a better supply pipeline and also promote keeping not only nurses but other health care professionals working in the hospitals, working bedside taking care of patients,” he said.


Hanger-Yates acknowledged that nursing is hard, emotional work. But when asked if she would have still chosen the profession as a young student knowing what she now knows, Hanger-Yates said “yes.”

For those considering a career in nursing, she advised they shadow professionals before making a decision.

“Get a job at a hospital. Work as a nursing assistant. Work as a secretary. Work as an EKG tech. If those things aren’t for you, there are other things within the medical profession that are just as rewarding,” she said.

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