While “labor shortage” has become a buzz phrase throughout industries, it is a very real issue that is impacting the nation. Hospitals and other healthcare facilities already had been struggling to recruit and retain workers before the COVID-19 pandemic, but as the virus continues to spread, facilities have been forced to shut down certain areas of the hospital because of lack of staffing.
In December, Advocate Aurora Health temporarily closed three urgent care facilities in the greater Milwaukee area because of staffing shortages. In addition, Indiana’s Pulaski Memorial Hospital closed its OB department in December. The action was brought on by the impact of COVID-19 and the lack of available maternity nurses.
Northeast Hospital Corp. (NHC) in Beverly, Massachusetts, has lost 40 percent of its nursing staff since July 2019, with more than 100 nurses leaving their positions in the last five months. The nursing union reported that it has reached the limit of its endurance following years of understaffing, excessive patient loads, forced overtime and working through the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the Massachusetts Nursing Association, NHC has not taken the appropriate steps to recruit and retain nurses within the hospital, instead, resorting to mandatory overtime. In a press release, the association claims that the company had only recently insisted on a contractual exception to a 2012 law that previously banned overtime in acute care hospitals. Nurses at NHC allegedly were subject to 83 mandates from September 2020 through August 2021, with an average time of forced overtime of 6.1 hours beyond the scheduled shift.
“The devastation of seeing our community suffer is unifying the nurses at Beverly Hospital and Addison Gilbert Hospital,” says Arianna Marquis, a registered nurse with Beverly Hospital. “The overwhelming burdens of unsafe staffing due to higher patient acuity and low wages have been issues long before the pandemic of 2020. These conditions have driven too many nurses away, and the majority who left were brilliant, compassionate caregivers who felt unsafe, understaffed and underpaid. New graduate nurses are voicing burnout so soon into their careers and fear for their licenses. Experience nurses find themselves in constant mourning over the exceptional care they were unable to provide due to no fault of their own.” NHC nurses are negotiating a new contract that aims to help recruit more nurses and increase wages.
But they aren’t the only union that has petitioned for new contracts. In Pennsylvania, nurses that work with Geisinger Health have reached a three-year contract agreement that includes wage increases and mental health days. The new contract went into effect Feb. 2.
Top healthcare officials are also worried about staffing shortages. For the first time, hospital CEOs have ranked labor concerns as their top issue in the American College of Healthcare Executives’ annual survey. Financial challenges and patient safety ranked second and third, respectively.
“This is the first time since 2004 that financial challenges have moved from the most significant challenge to the second position,” says Deborah J. Bowen, president and CEO of the American College of Healthcare Executives. “Both long- and short-term solutions are needed to address the shortages in critical front-line staff shown in our study to ensure hospitals have workforces that can meet the demands for safe, high-quality care both today and in the future. Longer term solutions include increasing the pipeline of staff to these positions, as well as organization-level efforts to increase staff retention. More immediate solutions include supporting and developing all staff, building staff resilience and exploring alternative models of care.”
Mackenna Moralez is assistant editor with Healthcare Facilities Today.