Nursing Shortage Began Well Before Pandemic; Problems Are Deeply Rooted
By Rebecca Love, chief clinical officer, IntelyCare.
The news media has done an excellent job of covering the country’s ongoing nursing shortage since the pandemic began. But one problem I have with the coverage is that most of the reports suggest the pandemic and the subsequent burnout suffered by nurses is to blame for the shortage.
Let’s be clear about what we in healthcare know all too well.
Years before February 2020, when COVID-19 began to spread across the globe, a growing number of care facilities around the country were chronically understaffed. The truth is the pandemic exacerbated and brought dramatic downward pressure on an already strained workforce. The issue came to the forefront because nurses were on the pandemic’s frontlines and in the spotlight. It shouldn’t have surprised anyone that the many ways the healthcare system has failed them – going back decades – were thrust into full public view.
Earlier this month, the St. Louis Post Dispatch published a story about the high turnover in area hospitals. At one hospital system, out of a 8,500-person staff, managers are losing 160 nurses a month, according to the paper. The story is much the same around the country. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the nation’s care facilities will be short 1.1 million registered nurses by next year. A problem is particularly serious for post-acute care facilities, which were seeing a pre-pandemic annual turnover rate of 128%.
Before the pandemic, shortages at facilities didn’t draw much attention because there was always some way to patch shifts together. Managers could hire per diem staff or travel nurses. Then, the pandemic struck and the backup resources administrators typically relied on dried up. With so many hospitals overflowing with COVID patients, few places possessed extra nurses.