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'I didn't want to leave them hanging' | Retired nurses returning to help fight coronavirus

Hundreds of retired nurses have returned to work during the pandemic according to the state nursing board.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — As hospitals search for extra staff to help fight the coronavirus, many retired healthcare workers are returning to work.

Sharon Clayton is one of them.

"I think that once you become a nurse it's part of who you are," Clayton said.

She spent 45 years as a cardiac services nurse at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center. As her time to retire approached, her coworkers were fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

"I always thought that 2020 would be the year that I retired and it was a difficult decision to make because I didn't want to leave them hanging out there," Clayton said.

She ultimately decided to retire in October until she got a letter from Novant Health.

The hospital reached out to Clayton and other recent retirees about coming back. It's part of an effort by Novant Health to address staffing issues caused by the pandemic called "Operation All In".

"That really appealed to me," Clayton said, "I thought that was something I could do to help with the teammates and the hospital and working in the vaccine clinic."

She came back two months after she left and is vaccinating fellow healthcare workers.

Clayton even vaccinated her former supervisor and got the vaccine herself. She received her second dose last week.

North Carolina Board of Nursing CEO Crystal Tillman said staffing shortages are happening across the state but Clayton is one of 1,040 retired nurses who have returned to work since April 2020.

The state nursing board put waivers in place last spring so nurses less than five years into retirement can return with fewer restrictions.

"The need for licensed nurses has been greater than ever," Tillman said, "Nurses want to help. We're a profession of caring and certainly if there's that opportunity we want to take advantage of it."

Cone Health said some of their retired nurses have come back to help too. Tillman said the state nursing board could extend the waivers that are allowing recently retired nurses to come back more easily.

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