Shortage of health care workers requires concerted response

Published 12:35 pm Friday, April 1, 2022

Hospitals, nursing homes and their patients rely on nurses and certified nursing assistants, so retention is an issue that health care systems and the state and federal government must eventually address.
The pandemic has created critical shortages among restaurant workers, truck drivers, teachers and a host of other occupations.
Nowhere, though, is the shrinking number of workers a more pressing issue than in the medical profession.
Nurses on the front lines in the war with COVID are crashing and burning. And it’s happening at a time when an aging U.S. population is needing more and more medical care.
According to one study, employers will need to hire 1.1 million more registered nurses nationwide by 2026. Pandemic burnout and retirements are driving the need. Two-thirds of nurses surveyed by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses last year said they were considering leaving the field. Twenty-one percent said they planned to quit within the next six months.
Nurses and CNAs are the very people who care for us in our times of need, the people who provide both the medical care and the comfort, the ones who will calm our fears and speak to our loved ones and do the work no one else will do when we’re at our most vulnerable.
And if the medical profession and the state don’t do something to address their concerns, there won’t be enough of these professionals left when we need them.
Many factors have contributed to that shortage. They include pandemic-related burnout; noncompetitive salaries; stressful working conditions — including overly high nurse-to-patient ratios; and, in the case of nursing homes, the state’s failure to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates.
Hospitals and their patients rely on experienced nurses, so retention is an issue that healthcare systems and the state and federal government must prioritize by addressing these factors.
In addition to retention, there must be a stronger focus on bringing new nurses and skilled care workers into the industry. The flow of new workers is not keeping up with the flow of those who are leaving or retiring from healthcare.
Lawmakers, healthcare systems and nursing schools must rise to meet the challenge of this staffing crisis. Competitive salaries and better working conditions must be part of the equation, but we also urge officials to think outside the box, to come up with innovative answers to challenges we’ve yet to face.
Gov. Bill Lee has proposed some big bucks to pay for a new stadium for the Tennessee Titans. How about addressing the shortage of health care workers by offering some incentives?
The state must do something to incentivize more people to go into teaching of new nurses and resources for schools to expand faculty, reducing the fees nurses are required to pay for clinical training and financial incentives to allow nurses to stay in the profession at retirement age. Among things the General Assembly can do is to give community college nursing programs a boost by increasing the size of their programs and pay the tuition for student nurses.
These changes won’t address all the issues that lead to burnout and nursing shortages. But they will help address the low pay, overwork and staff shortages that lead many to quit the profession.
The effect of doing nothing will be even fewer nurses to care for us and our loved ones.
Without them, who will we rely on when we’re most in need?

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