Birmingham, Ala. (WALA)-- Some healthcare workers in Birmingham are at a breaking point. The University of Alabama at Birmingham had dozens of nurses protesting last night, saying working in this pandemic has been stressful and they deserve more pay.

Nurses said working in the midst of COVID-19 for about 18 months has taken a toll on them, physically and mentally. Nightshift emergency department nurses at UAB delayed clocking in, and it sent a loud message to the hospital and community.

"Honestly, I can't say that it surprised me," said Lindsey Harris, president of the Alabama State Nurses Association.

She said change needs to happen.

"Healthcare in general is strained," she said. "Our nurses are stressed. Nurses are doing things they have not done before."

Harris said nurses in Alabama make on average 8 percent less than surrounding states.  

In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Alabama is ranked 49th nationwide for average RN pay, which is roughly $60,000. 

Other states nearby, like Georgia, is close to $70,000.

At UAB, the nurses' biggest concerns are low pay, being overworked, and understaffed.

"Hospitals need help,' said Harris. "Hospitals need more nurses. The governor is giving us the $12.3 million for the hospitals to help with the contracted staff, but at some point we have to think about our staff that are here permanently."

UAB Chief Nursing Officer Terri Poe sent this abbreviated statement: "The COVID pandemic and recent Delta variant surge have stressed the healthcare system and put tremendous pressure on our staff – including nurses on the front lines. We are aware of our nurses’ concerns and are working to address them while adjusting operations to provide the highest quality care to our patients who need us. We encourage a dialogue with our employees."

Harris hopes in the future Alabama nurses will get higher pay statewide.

Nurses did eventually return to work. One nurse said no patients were left unattended, and there were still others on the job.

Another statement from UAB said the hospital will continue talking with nurses about potential improvements.

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