Nurses needed now: Solutions to a long-running staffing crisis have been hard to come by

Hospitals and nursing homes hope turnover in Harrisburg means change for the struggling industry

By: - March 29, 2023 6:30 am

A nurse gives a man a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine during a mobile clinic setup in Reading in April 2021 (Photo b y Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images/City & State Pa.).

By Harrison Cann

The need for nurses isn’t new. But now, with older nurses opting to retire, new nurses coming in with a COVID-disrupted education, and veteran nurses leaving the industry altogether, staffing shortages are at a dangerous level, as indicated by an American Nurses Foundation survey from last year that found more than 90% of nurses reported staffing shortages at their organizations.

From nursing homes and long-term care facilities to hospitals and even nursing school programs, advocates and lawmakers are grappling with ever-spiraling demands to increase the state’s supply of nurses. And even as Gov. Josh Shapiro included a tax incentive of up to $2,500 for those looking to join the nursing workforce in his inaugural budget proposal, those on the front lines emphasize that dire conditions on the ground warrant more aggressive initiatives to replenish the highly specialized workforce.

“We are hemorrhaging nurses that want to work at the bedside,” Wayne Reich, CEO of the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association, told City & State. He said efforts to recruit new nurses must coincide with improvements in working conditions – or else providers will continue to struggle to retain workers.

“The new generation is coming out of nursing school, they’re spending four years of education, they’re going into debt, and they’re going out and working…They’re saying, ‘This isn’t what I signed up for’ – and they leave the profession.”

People are moving from provider to provider, but when the music stops, there are a ton of chairs open.

– Susie Tack Beardsley

Staffing shortages have made it difficult for facilities to maintain low patient-to-nurse ratios, and with increased burnout and an aging population in need of more care, issues surrounding the shortage are compounding the ill effects. Everything from a convoluted regulatory system and an inundated licensing board to a new generation of workers demanding better working conditions has providers scrambling to fill open positions. Beyond short-term measures, advocates are asking for everyone in the industry to take a hard look at the unfair burdens placed on its front-line workers by employers, the pandemic and the economy.

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