Coronavirus impact: Bay Area nursing industry hopes to attract retail workers facing uncertain future

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- With reports circulating that the luxury chain Neiman Marcus may be filing for bankruptcy, retail store employees are facing an uncertain future. One million of them already have been furloughed by the pandemic. But that's giving hope for another field desperate to hire.

The saying goes, when one door closes, another opens. The opening is for nurses, tens of thousands are needed.

The transition requires training, but given the way nurses are heroes today, it could be an appealing career switch.

The projections will worry retail workers. According to very high-level estimates by the Silicon Valley Institute for Regional Studies, as many as 12,000 to 13,000 retail jobs could be lost after the pandemic if the trend continues away from stores to online shopping.

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However, there's an upside from the health field.

"They would like to hire workers who on the phone you can sense they're smiling or they're able to make patients feel comfortable and welcome," said Van Ton-Quinlivar, CEO of Futuro Health.

People skills that retail workers already have are in demand if they're willing to re-train. Futuro Health is a nonprofit created by Kaiser Permanente and by the union SEIU just as the pandemic was starting to attract and train 100,000 nurses and allied workers on behalf of all health care providers.

Mark Brown is the chief nursing officer at San Jose's Good Samaritan Hospital. He points out that one in four nurses is over 55 and closing in on retirement.

To fill openings, they need to recruit people in their 20's, 30's and 40's.

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"You don't have to be in a hospital based system when it comes to this," Brown said. "You can work in a physician's office, you can do home health. There's just a ton of opportunity around nursing and respiratory therapy and any other health care professions that we have."

Nurse training can take two to three years to be certified by non-degree programs.

"The cost will range anywhere from roughly $6,000 to $15,000 and up," said Futuro Health's Ton-Quinlivar.

Here's the payoff. Bay Area retail pay is about $17.50 an hour. It's $25 to $35 an hour for licensed vocational nurses. Or about $100,00 per year for registered nurses.

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"It's something that people who have that compassion and passion, it's a really rewarding profession," said Good Samaritan's Brown.

For more details about the Futuro Health initiative, you can visit their website here.

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