Concerning statistics have made headlines in recent weeks: three in 10 healthcare workers are considering leaving the healthcare field, and 83% of U.S. health executives are concerned about a severe nursing shortage. The vulnerabilities caused by the U.S. nursing shortage were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and led to widespread panic among the nursing community. In-person instruction and hands-on training became nearly impossible to come by due to hospital resource shortages, as well as nursing schools taking precautionary measures to ensure their students’ safety.
Today, more than half of nurses are burnt out, stressed, depressed, or anxious, and many are reevaluating their career choice. As we emerge from the crisis, nurses’ strikes are making national headlines due to mounting dissatisfaction with pay, working conditions, and more. It’s clear that the status quo for Florida’s nurses won’t be enough post-pandemic—we need innovative solutions to address the growing staffing problems in our state’s healthcare system.
In addition to these concerning facts, we are projected to experience a record surge in demand for nurses; by 2029, the U.S. will need 200,000 additional nurses because of demographic change and population growth. This surge means higher patient loads per nurse, which have been linked to several negative patient outcomes such as higher death rates, hospital readmission rates, and rates of infection.
As patients, we put our lives in the hands of healthcare professionals and trust that they will provide us with quality care. We can’t afford to lose a third of them right as one of the largest generations in history is about to require record levels of intensive and continued care. That need is even more pronounced in Florida—the state with the second highest percentage (20.5%) of people over the age of 65.
How can we tackle this looming crisis?
First, we need to open our minds to what healthcare staffing can and should look like. Two out of three nurses say better staffing is key to preparing for the next health crisis. Yet hospitals are struggling to find qualified talent. In the midst of a nursing shortage within our country, staffing agencies can help. We recruit and hire from a global pool of candidates, providing hospitals with highly qualified foreign-educated nurses from other parts of the world. Filling the gap with foreign-educated nurses alleviates staffing shortfalls within the healthcare system and sets up hospitals for success for years to come. However, expediting the availability of foreign-educated nurses would be possible with the passage of the bi-partisan Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act, which speeds up the visa authorization process for highly-trained nurses with the goal of filling nursing shortages and helping hospitals alleviate current and future health crises.
Expanding the pool of candidates also means staffing agencies can provide hospitals with a flexible workforce who can go where they are needed most. We can’t expect every hospital to have an expert on staff for every issue, so we need to think bigger picture. Whether that’s nurses trained to work with underserved communities or specialists equipped to handle emerging health crises, agencies have the tools to help our hospitals.
Then, we need to collaborate. The walls that previously kept academia, hospitals, and staffing agencies separate need to come down. Through transparent conversations, we can better understand each group’s challenges and solutions and how each can bring something unique to the table to help avoid future crises. Over the last year, we’ve fostered partnerships with hospitals to respond to sharp and sudden staffing needs resulting from COVID-19. Throughout the pandemic, the nursing shortage and spike in COVID patients meant hospitals needed staff immediately. We partnered with a key South Florida client to supplement their human resources group to recruit, qualify, and onboard a large quantity of nurses to quickly respond to a surge in COVID patients. Collaborative partnerships like this also reduce the administrative burden on hospital staff, freeing them to focus on operating their hospital in the middle of a crisis.
It will take hard work and cooperation from every part of the nursing talent pipeline to address current and growing labor shortfalls. We need to act now to keep Florida healthy and its healthcare system strong.