A nurse staffing shortage has loomed over the healthcare industry for years, even decades. For some facilities and providers, the shortage has had a seriously negative effect on patient care. But as the pandemic continues, and the shortage is projected to get even worse, what can healthcare leaders do to meet this urgent challenge?
What’s Behind the Nurse Staffing Shortage?
Organizations like the American Nursing Association (ANA) and the American Hospital Association (AHA) have long warned the nation about the nurse staffing shortage. Healthcare leaders are no doubt aware of these warnings, but may be unsure of what they can do about it. To understand how to address the issue, it’s important to know about the reasons behind the shortage.
The main factors driving the nurse staffing shortage are:
- An aging population. The average age of Americans is rising, increasing the need for nurses. “Many disease processes that were once terminal are now survivable for the long-term,” as per a 2021 nursing shortage study. “Treating these long-term illnesses can strain the workforce.”
- An aging workforce. According to statistics from 2018, the average age of a registered nurse in the United States was 50. With more nurses closer to retiring than there are new to the workforce, signs point to a decrease in available nurses in the years to come.
- Widespread burnout. Burnout is always a risk in the nursing profession. This can lead to critical errors in patient care. And the shortage actually makes the situation worse, “driving many nurses to leave the profession,” notes the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).
- Not enough new nurses. Even though the workforce is growing at a relatively healthy rate, it’s “not sufficient to meet the projected demand for nursing services,” the AACN points out — and this was true even before the pandemic.
- Covid-19. Unfortunately, the ongoing pandemic is only making all of this worse. Older Americans are more in need of care than ever. More nurses are retiring early. Many are simply quitting. And more than 1,200 have died from Covid-19 itself, reports The New York Times.
How Does the Nurse Staffing Shortage Impact Patient Care?
With all these factors getting worse during Covid-19, the nurse staffing shortage isn’t just a concern for the future — it’s a challenge that demands your attention today. And for facilities and providers that aren’t prepared, it can cause real damage to the ability to provide quality patient care.
It may seem like a common-sense conclusion that having more nurses leads to better patient care. But there’s plenty of data to support that claim.
One study published in the journal Medical Care concluded that a higher level of nurse staffing “protected patients from poor outcomes.” Another study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the failure to staff RNs “below target levels” is related to a higher rate of patient mortality.
“Staffing in nursing homes has a substantial impact on the quality of care and outcomes residents experience,” the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently announced. That statement came as part of the CMS decision to start posting turnover rates and weekend staffing levels for nursing homes, another sign of how seriously the authorities are taking the shortage.
> Did you know? The states hardest hit by the nurse staffing shortage are California, Texas, New Jersey, and South Carolina. Get more details here.
What Can Healthcare Leaders Do?
The nurse staffing shortage is a serious problem, beyond the scope of any single organization to solve. So, what can leaders actually do to avoid or mitigate the worst effects?
- Work to prevent burnout and compassion fatigue. There are a number of ways to alleviate burnout and compassion fatigue among your nursing staff. Some effective methods include setting up dedicated time-out space and promoting self-care. You can find more tips here.
- Give nurses the recognition they deserve. At a time when morale is low, giving nurses proper support and recognition could be a huge motivator. Consider implementing a model like the CareerStaff Clinicians of the Month, which honors dozens of outstanding nurses each year.
- Partner with a travel nursing provider. The shortage has hit some areas harder than others. Many leaders in these areas have found that travel nurses can help them maintain patient care during difficult times. You can get more info about travel nursing services here.
- Get a long-term strategy. It may be impossible to create nurses out of thin air, but there are ways to do more with the resources at your disposal. A healthcare managed services provider (MSP) can help you set a customized, long-term strategy to help you overcome nurse staffing shortages and other unforeseen challenges. Learn more about healthcare MSP here.
Ready to get started with a new nurse staffing solution? The CareerStaff team is standing by to help with travel nurses, crisis response nurses, MSP services, and more. You can contact us here or request a consultation for more info, or submit a nurse staffing request now.