A Glimpse at the Healthcare Staffing Shortage in Long-Term Care
By Donna Zoellick, Director, Advisory Services
As we enter year three of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare providers are still struggling with nursing shortages and rising labor costs — and there is no relief in sight. The shortages are partially due to employee burnout during the pandemic, with many nurses leaving the industry completely. However, we can’t blame this crisis entirely on COVID-19.
The nursing shortage actually began long before COVID-19 entered our vocabulary. As baby boomers age, there are more people over 65 years old in the United States than ever before. That creates a greater demand for healthcare services and adds pressure to an already strained healthcare system. As a result, hospitals are offering nurses unprecedented sign-on and referral bonuses.
As the population ages, so does the percentage of RNs reaching retirement age. It is estimated that half of RNs are over the age of 50. Unfortunately, there is a gap between the number of people leaving the workforce and the number enrolling in nursing school. Additionally, some schools have to turn away qualified applicants due to their own faculty shortages. As a result, the pipeline of new nursing professionals is not sufficient to meet the growing demands of 2022 and beyond.
Some nurses are leaving their jobs at healthcare facilities and accepting positions with nursing staffing agencies. These agencies often offer higher wages and more flexibility with scheduling, which is enticing for the exhausted nursing workforce. More facilities are using contract nursing to fill their staff vacancies, but it comes with a higher price tag. In other words, the facility’s loss is the agency’s gain. This is not sustainable in the long run because it jeopardizes the financial viability of the healthcare industry. There have been reports of price gouging by nursing agencies, and the White House’s COVID-19 Response Team Coordinator has even received requests to investigate these allegations.
The industry isn’t just struggling to retain nursing staff. Non-clinical staff, such as housekeeping and dietary specialists, are also in short supply. Healthcare organizations are competing with outside industries for these employees as people look for higher wages and better benefits.
Healthcare providers must maintain a healthy workplace culture to improve employee retention and lure candidates to their facility. A strong work environment could include healthy snacks and a dedicated space for much-needed relaxation during breaks. Ensure that all staff receive enough time off to unwind. Employees should be reminded of Employee Assistance Programs (when available) that offer counseling, mental health screening, and wellness workshops. Providers should encourage continuing education and consider offering tuition reimbursement. Lastly, management should strengthen the pipeline of new workers by contacting local universities and participating in career fairs.