Nurse Shortage Becomes A Crisis, Pandemic Pressures Pushing Profession To Brink

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The twin pressures of the nurse shortage and COVID-19 pandemic are pressing the nursing profession to the brink of collapse with calls for national emergency declaration, strikes and state committing big bucks to bring in more medical help.

Last week (Sept. 1, 2021) he American Nurses Association called on the US Department of Health and Human Services to declare the nurse staffing shortage a national crisis.

In a letter to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, the organization called for the administration to acknowledge and take action to address the nurse shortage.

“The nation’s healthcare delivery systems are overwhelmed, and nurses are tired and frustrated as this persistent pandemic rages on with no end in sight. Nurses alone cannot solve this longstanding issue and it is not our burden to carry,” ANA President Ernest Grant said. “If we truly value the immeasurable contributions of the nursing workforce, then it is imperative that HHS utilize all available authorities to address this issue.”

Its letter calls for HHS to:

nurse shortageConvene stakeholders to identify short- and long-term solutions to staffing challenges to face the demand of the Covid-19 pandemic response, ensuring the nation’s healthcare delivery system is best equipped to provide quality care for patients, and prepared for the future challenges.

Work with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services on methodologies and approaches to promote payment equity for nursing services and remove unnecessary regulatory barriers to allow advanced practice registered nurses to practice.

Educate the nation on the importance of the Covid-19 vaccine and provide resources for widespread administration of the Covid-19 vaccine and any subsequent boosters.

Sustain a nursing workforce that meets current and future staffing demands to ensure access to care for patients and prioritize the mental health of nurses and other health professionals.

Provide additional resources, including recruitment and retention incentives, that will attract students to the nursing profession and retain skilled nurses to fill the demands of patient car.

The American Nurses Association represents the interests of the 4.2 million nurses in the US. 

The physical and emotional traumas of Covid-19 are driving nurses to leave bedside nursing or the profession, according to a research study by healthcare staffing firm Aya Healthcare.

From a labor standpoint, the US entered the Covid-19 pandemic with an already-strained healthcare system with millions of more open positions for skilled medial professionals than skilled medial professionals to fill them.

Now, amid the ongoing pandemic, the healthcare workforce is experiencing unprecedented levels of burnout and high turnover, affecting quality care delivery and patient outcomes.

“The battle for nurses is tougher than ever,” said April Hansen, group president of workforce solutions at Aya Healthcare. “Understanding their motivation to remain in nursing, happiness levels with current employers and professional choice are critical to gauging long-term workforce stability. And our research found that, most importantly, nurses need our time and attention.”

The report, “Mind the Gap: Repairing the US Healthcare Workforce,” is based on 30 qualitative interviews conducted in May and June of 2021 with both travel and core staff nurses.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Covid-19 is driving major shifts in the US nursing workforce composition
  • Happiness levels and stress levels are primary influencers on career decisions
  • The emotional and physical impacts of the pandemic are extensive
  • Animosity is growing between core staff nurses and travel nurses
  • Nurses are seeking support from hospital management.

 The pandemic and nurse shortage are putting pressure on individual US states.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said the state will spend $60 million for temporary staffing at healthcare facilities.

“This funding opportunity will decrease stress on existing hospital staff, increase hiring opportunities and decrease the risk of Covid-19 hospitalizations in Arizona,” Ducey said in a statement.

Ducey’s office noted hospitals are experiencing high patient volumes leading to staffing challenges for doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and other healthcare providers. At the same time, high demand across the US for these professionals has caused prices to increase.

“This latest Covid-19 surge has been challenging for healthcare workers,” Linda Hunt, president and CEO of Dignity Health’s Southwest Division, said in a statement. “They are exhausted yet continue to step-up in the most heroic ways. The high volume of patients compounded by the shortage of doctors and nurses across the country is creating intense competition for a limited pool of nurses nationwide.”

Overall, Ducey’s office said the state has dedicated $145 million to support hospital staffing during the pandemic. This includes $25 million dedicated in November and $60 million in December. Nebraska Gov. Peter Ricketts announced moves — including declaring a hospital staffing emergency — making it easier for hospitals in the state to increase staffing amid Covid-19.

Ricketts issued an executive order declaring a hospital staffing emergency and authorizes the credentialing of retired or inactive healthcare professionals, defers certain continuing education requirements and allows new healthcare providers seeking a license to begin practice. The will remain in effect through the end of 2021.

Ricketts also issued a directed health measure that suspends certain elective surgeries that can wait four weeks or longer. The measure took effect Aug. 30 and remains in effect through Sept. 30.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson announced last week that the state has committed $15 million to provide extra healthcare staffing in the state in the fight against Covid-19.

“We’ve consistently heard from our health care partners that staffing is one of the biggest challenges we continue to face,” Governor Parson said. “Our health care workers have been on the frontlines since day one, and our goal is to provide continued support with this additional effort.”

The $15 million is going to Missouri-licensed or CMS-certified critical access, acute care and long-term care hospitals. Another $15 million is for establishing five to eight monoclonal antibody infusion stations.

Hawaii will receive more than 500 healthcare professionals from out of state to help fight Covid-19, the Hawaii Department of Public Health announced. The state is receiving $46 million in funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to bring travel healthcare workers through staffing firm ProLink Healthcare, a Cincinnati-based healthcare staffing firm.

The department noted 46 clinicians were deployed this past weekend at Hilo Medical Center and Kona Hospital on the island of Hawaii to handle a surge in Covid-19 cases. The remaining staff is expected to arrive over the next three weeks.

“The needs in the hospitals have dramatically increased primarily because of the highly transmissible Delta variant,” said Hilton Raethel, CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii. “Our emergency rooms, medical-surge units and intensive care units are being overwhelmed with patients who have not been vaccinated.”

The Department of Public Health reported the majority of positions are for medical-surgical nurses, critical care nurses and telemetry nurses. The remaining positions include respiratory therapists, emergency department nurses, medical technicians and behavioral health technicians.

Last fall, Hawaii brought in more than 200 out-of-state nurses and other specialists during a four-month period to supplement local staff.

KXAN television in Austin, Texas, reported tha more than 6,500 out-of-state travel nurses needed within Texas to handle the surge of Covid-19 hospitalizations. Other states such as Louisiana and Florida are also facing needs for healthcare personnel with 47,000 travel nurse positions emerging nationally.

“We’ve reached out to the medical staffing agencies we used previously to start identifying medical surge staff. There is a still a need for funding to support that effort and ensure medical professionals can be sent to the health care facilities that need them,” Chris Van Deusen, director of media relations for the Texas Department of State Health Services, told KXAN. “As a reminder, cities and counties have more than $10 billion in federal funds that can be used for this purpose immediately.

Desperate health systems have also begun offering big bonuses to attract nurses.

Business Insider reported that Monument Health in South Dakota is offering a $40,000 sign-on bonus for intensive care and operating room nurses. Bonuses are being offered by other healthcare workers as well amid rising Covid-19 numbers.  

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