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Hospitals struggle to fill staffing holes in short, long term amid surge in nurse turnover

31 Mar 2022 3:59 PM | Deborah Hodges (Administrator)

Healthcare workforce shortages today are unprecedented. Some hospital leaders fear the worst is yet to come. [Healthcare Dive 3.31.2022]

That's because as nurses quit in droves — with some leaving to take higher-paying traveling nurse positions or opting for early retirements — replacing them is becoming increasingly difficult. With many other nurses dropping the profession because of the mental of physical toll of being on front lines of the pandemic for two years, it's almost mission impossible for many health systems to fill staffing holes.  now

Projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimate U.S. healthcare organizations will have to fill almost 200,000 open nursing positions every year until 2030, with many of those slots resulting from the need to replace nurses who leave for different occupations or retire.

"This is a bigger workforce shortage than we have ever dealt with," said Gay Landstrom, senior vice president and chief nursing officer of Trinity Health, a nonprofit system with 88 hospitals nationwide.

While some systems anticipate many nurses who are leaving now will eventually return, staff shortages — already forecast to occur over the next decade even before the pandemic began — likely will persist, driven mainly by an aging nursing population, hospital officials say.

A large chunk of the most experienced senior nurses are set to retire over the next two decades, as the average age of a registered nurse in the U.S. in 2020 was 51 years old, according to a survey from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

While interest in healthcare professions like nursing hasn't waned, shortages of nursing educators and sites to get clinical hours pose imminent challenges to the pipeline of new nurses in particular.

Some systems are boosting benefits and propping up their own internal staffing agencies to keep nurses in house at least for the short to medium term. Others are looking to bolster partnerships with academic institutions to better strengthen their pipelines in the years to come.

"The role of the nurse needs to be an enticing one," Landstrom said. "We need to have enticing jobs that aren't completely exhausting."

Nurses under attack

Throughout the pandemic, surveys have increasingly found widespread stress and burnout among the healthcare workforce. Some nurses say their jobs are now less satisfying, and for some it's untenable as persistent staffing shortages make it difficult to adequately care for patients.

More than a third of nurses recently surveyed by staffing firm Incredible Health said they plan to leave their current jobs by the end of this year, citing burnout and high-stress work environments. Higher pay elsewhere is the top reason for taking another position, the poll found.

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