Weathering the storm: Navigating the nursing shortage
Navigating the nursing shortage

Weathering the storm: Navigating the nursing shortage

A Perfect Storm

The nursing industry has been plagued by staffing shortages for some time and things do not appear to be getting better any time soon. There are several reasons for this ominous forecast.

First, is the demanding nature of the job. Nurses typically work long shifts in physically taxing and stressful environments. These conditions have led to higher burnout and turnover rates. Many nurses also have competing family priorities that lead them away from the workforce.

Another reason is the rapidly-aging U.S. population. As the baby-boomer generation enters retirement age, they are using more medical products and services than ever, taxing an already strained healthcare system. Additionally, according to a 2018 survey, half of the nation’s RNs are over 50 years old. This means a significant portion of nurses are getting ready to retire at a time when they are going to be needed the most.

A third reason is the rise of competing opportunities that are taking nurses out of the traditional roles in hospitals and nursing homes. According to Dr. Cathy Rozmus, vice dean of academic affairs at the University of Texas Health Science Center Houston, “In the 1960s, if you were a nurse you likely worked in a hospital. Now you can work in a clinic, in advanced practice delivering primary care services. You can get a Master’s or a Ph.D. and teach. The kinds of things nurses do have expanded like a sponge.”

And a fourth reason is the lack of educators in nursing programs across the country. This has caused an education bottleneck that is limiting the number of new nurses seeking to enter the field each year. In 2018, more than 75,000 otherwise qualified applicants were turned away from nursing schools simply due to faculty shortages.

These four factors are converging to create a perfect storm: a rapid influx of patients compounded by a growing shortage of nurses.

And that was all before the COVID-9 pandemic hit.

A Reason for Hope

But there is a flicker of hope on the horizon. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has allocated $5 billion of healthcare funding specifically earmarked for nursing homes. The funds are designed to help LTC facilities augment their skilled nursing staff and bring in new recruits to the frontlines.

However, to qualify for funding, nursing home facilities will need to meet certain requirements such as participating in 23 online COVID training modules and submitting to State inspections.

Charting the Course

Nursing home and long-term care facilities that do qualify will need a creative strategy in place to make the most of these HHS funds. Below are some suggestions to help you think outside the box and make the most of each dollar.

  1. Tuition reimbursement: Because of the education bottleneck, the competition to hire new graduates is fierce among employers. Your facility can gain an edge by offering a full or partial tuition reimbursement program.
  2. Nurse mentors: Pairing new nurses with older, more experienced ones can solve two problems at once. Nurses who are nearing retirement may be interested in working shorter hours with less physically demanding duties. This can help alleviate potential burnout and stress while taking advantage of the ‘brain trust’ these experienced nurses have to offer. Additionally, new nurses can gain valuable insights and confidence by having a mentor on hand to guide them through difficult situations.
  3. Mom-Schedules: Many LTC facilities have gotten creative with their scheduling by offering flexible and even part-time schedules to help nurses who are juggling other family commit-ments. Also, giving your nurses greater input into their scheduling options creates a sense of empowerment and ownership that can go a long way to build employee satisfaction and stave off burnout.
  4. Concierge Services: Some employers offer their nursing staff access to personal assistants who can help run errands like grocery shopping, picking up laundry etc. Such a benefit could help reduce the stress that many nurses with big families experience.
  5. Daycare: By hiring staff or partnering with a local daycare facility, you can provide much needed help for nurses with young children. This investment in your nursing staff would be money well utilized.

As LTC facilities navigate the rough seas ahead, this potential HHS funding can help you both bring on new nurses and improve the work-life balance and job satisfaction of your current staff. Building a work environment where your skilled nurses are energized and empowered will significantly improve the quality care you provide for your patients.

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