The coronavirus pandemic is making the shortages of healthcare workers across the country worse. According to a recent survey, hospitals in 25 states are critically short of staff such as doctors and nurses, and the staffing problems are expected to continue. In some facilities, the situation is dire because there are not enough acute care specialists who can work in the emergency room (ER), intensive care unit (ICU) and other hospital areas.
COVID-19 has put a tremendous strain on hospitals and clinics. Shortages have forced some places to transfer patients from one state to another. Without enough staff, there are concerns that patients may die due to a lack of care.
A combination of factors is making the shortages worse during the coronavirus pandemic. First, there are more patients who require acute care because of the virus. Second, many staff members in hospitals are getting sick or forced to quarantine for 14 days, so they cannot work. Third, there were already staffing shortages in most parts of the country before the pandemic started. Both rural and urban areas are dealing with the problems of staffing their hospitals.
The Need for Acute Care Nurses and Nurse Practitioners
One of the areas with the greatest shortages is acute care nursing. These nurses are trained to work in intensive, primary, trauma and acute care units. Hospitals are so desperate to hire nurses who can work in acute settings like the ER or ICU that they are paying $5,000 to $6,000 a week to retain them. For example, travel nursing jobs are available in all the states, and many pay high bonuses.
The current coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the need for acute care nursing. COVID-19 can require hospitalization in an intensive care unit and the use of a ventilator and oxygen. The length of time that a patient spends in ICU can vary from one week to several months. Acute care nurses are on the frontline taking care of these patients, but they are at risk of contracting the virus. The long hours and stressful working conditions also contribute to burnout.
COVID-19 has affected a higher number of older patients, so there is a strong need for adult-gerontology acute care nurses and nurse practitioners. Research shows that the virus seems to affect more adults over the age of 65 and those who have serious underlying health conditions. Older adults are at a higher risk of getting the virus and having a severe case. In the United States, eight out of 10 people who have died from COVID-19 were over the age of 65. The shortage of acute care staff can make these numbers go higher.
Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts 31% growth in jobs for nurse practitioners, there are not enough people to fill these roles now, and the situation is not expected to improve. In acute care settings, the situation is even worse because there is a smaller pool of nurses and nurse practitioners who decide to specialize in this area.
How You Can Help
If you are already an acute care nurse, there are things you can do. Consider joining the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) and becoming a paid member to help influence the direction of acute care in America. The nonprofit association supports acute and critical care nurses to help them provide better patient care across the country.
Even if you are not part of the acute care nursing community, you can support their initiatives to improve healthcare and reduce shortages of staff. First, you can support fellowships and loan forgiveness that would increase the number of faculty who can teach future nurses and nurse practitioners. This may also lead to the expansion of programs and the ability to admit more students. Second, you can encourage schools or help set up scholarships and financial aid packages for students interested in becoming nurses.
Fewer young people are choosing nursing as a career path, and it needs to change. If you are not able or interested in changing careers, consider encouraging high school students to pursue nursing. Mentoring youth is one way to help, and you do not have to be a nurse to do it. By being there for a student, you can help them create goals and figure out the steps to reach them.
The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the shortage of nurses and nurse practitioners across the country. As hospitals feel the strain of overflowing ERs and ICUs, the acute care staff they need to help patients is not enough. Some care team members are becoming sick from COVID-19, and others have to quarantine for 14 days due to viral exposure. There were shortages of healthcare providers before the pandemic started. Now, the growing number of patients is making the shortages worse.