LOS ANGELES — Parts of South Los Angeles are designated medically underserved and health care professional shortage areas. Studies show health care workers are more likely to stay in the area where they train.

A Willowbrook hospital in a staffing crisis is dealing with both these issues simultaneously.

What You Need To Know

  • Parts of South Los Angeles are designated as medically underserved

  • Dana Yi is a registered nurse who takes care of patients with COVID-19

  • Yi is working extra shifts and seeing more patients than usual due to a staffing crisis

  • Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital will hire and train more nurses, thanks to a grant

It starts with finding and training new graduates like Dana Yi. Yi is a SoCal native who went to nursing school in New York but decided to come home to start her career

Coincidentally she's starting her career in the middle of a pandemic.

Yi works at Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital. The hospital is certainly feeling the impact of the rise in coronavirus cases.

In 2019 Yi had just graduated and started her residency. Yi is now a registered nurse. She had been working unsupervised for less than a year when the world entered a pandemic.

She vividly remembers her first patient with COVID-19.

"I remember the doctor telling me, 'Just be careful, wear all your PPE. Based on his chest X-rays and his symptoms, I'm pretty sure he has COVID,' and I remember being so terrified. I just kept thinking my dad just finished chemo. Is it even safe for me to go back home?" Yi said.

Yi was living with her father but moved out this year.

"I have this weird guilt like what if I carry it," Yi said.

Yi works on the third floor of MLKCH, which is for COVID-19 positive and negative patients needing consistent care.

It has been trial by fire. Yi has worked holidays, picked up extra shifts, and upped her patient to nurse ratio from 4:1 to 5:1.

"I think that the hospital did everything they could to train us and support us, but I think [at] the moment, you kind of just have to do it," Yi said.

A big part of the problem is a widespread nursing shortage.

"Right now, we are in a major, major crisis at the facility. We have nurses that have called out because of the pandemic," Rosina Lloyd said. Nursing Residency Program Manager Lloyd helped oversee Yi's training.

The hospital just got $500,000 from Bank of America. With the money, they will train around 15 new nurses over the next two years on top of the 20 to 30 nurses they usually train each year.

That won't get them to a good spot, so the hospital has contracted 27 travel nurses for a few months. They will start later this month.

These are dark times, but Yi is far from defeated.

"Even if I have a crazy shift or the craziest thing happens with some of my patients afterward, I will be like, 'Oh my gosh, I can't believe that happened. That was amazing. I want to learn more,'" Yi said.

Yi is a full-time employee, and each shift is 12 hours long. She says a big chunk of her time nowadays is spent getting in and out of personal protective equipment between patients.

MLKCH is licensed and accredited for 131 beds. In total, there are more than 500 nurses at the hospital.