CHICAGO (WLS) — Some are calling it a national crisis: a shortage of nurses. The problem existed before the pandemic. Now the projected deficit could be more than 1 million nurses by the end of the year.
COVID is just one of many reasons why there has been a mass exodus of nurses leaving hospital jobs. During recent protests in Chicago, nurses complained of insecure provider-patient relationships and inadequate pay. Healthcare professionals tell the I-Team that replenishing that workforce will be a challenge.
“Because right now burnout is real,” said Keisha House, family nurse and UIC College of Nursing educator.
According to the American Nurses Association, increasing access to health care, an aging baby boom population, and more people with chronic medical conditions are all contributing to an increasing demand for nurses. And of course there are the effects of the pandemic.
“I thought I was going to die. I thought I was going to die every day,” House said.
She contracted COVID in March 2020 and missed four months of work and school.
“I think all nurses should be paid well, way above what we get,” House said. “We go above and beyond every day.”
Records show that there are nearly 4.5 million registered nurses with active licenses. Of these, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics says only 72% are employed as RNs.
“Nurse staffing has been a problem for many years. We know that one in five healthcare workers left the healthcare profession during the pandemic. So add that to the fact that we have over 50% of our registered nurses who are over the age of 55, we have a real problem if we don’t entice and encourage more learners to enter the nursing profession,” said Allyson Hansen, executive director of the Illinois Medical District.
The I-Team met Adam Saleh and Lanz Orpilla in April when they were completing their nursing training at UIC. Both credit the school’s simulation lab with preparing them for their first jobs as registered nurses.
“I can feel much more comfortable in the hospital,” Saleh said.
“It gives you that real life experience,” Orpilla said.
As students, both said they were concerned about the challenges facing the workforce.
“I definitely feel like we need to treat nurses better,” Saleh said. “We need to provide better equitable resources, just like mental health, staffing quotas.”
“The role that I play in healthcare is actually far more important than I originally anticipated,” Orpilla said.
“So what we’re seeing is that a lot of nurses left their staff role and then became traveling nurses … because of the higher pay,” Saleh said.
“We need more amenities,” said Hansen. “We need more retail, more restaurants, more green space, a place where they can relax on break or after work.”
Illinois recently amended its Nurse Agency Licensing Act to further protect nurses’ rights.
“It definitely benefits nurses that any rate negotiated between a healthcare facility and a nurse recruitment agency, 100% of that rate must go to the nurse,” said Marina Faz-Huppert, Fair Labor Standards Director.
Apparently that wasn’t the case during the pandemic.
In the Illinois Medical District, 70% of the nursing faculty are over 55 years old. Despite the nation’s aging faculty, the number of nursing school graduates has increased tremendously over the past two decades. In 2001 there were 22,593 graduates. In 2020, that number rose to 82,380.
“We’re students growing up in a pandemic and I feel like we’re all more motivated than ever to join the force and help in any way we can,” Orpilla said.
Hospitals across the country are in dire need of trained nurses. A recent survey found that a quarter of participating hospitals currently have at least 100 nursing positions to fill. They are counting on recent graduates and traveling nurses to fill part of the gap.
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