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COVID-19 Accentuates Nationwide Nursing Shortage

The shortage of nurses has been a problem for decades but profession leaders said the coronavirus pandemic has heightened the issue because more of them are needed to treat virus patients, and others, and to man hospitals.

In August, the American Nurses Association, the trade organization for the country’s 4.2 million nurses, urged the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) “to declare the current and unsustainable nurse staffing shortage facing our country a national crisis.” In a letter to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, the ANA wants the Biden administration to take solid action to address the nursing shortage that prevents its members from serving patients.

“The nation’s health care delivery systems are overwhelmed, and nurses are tired and frustrated as this persistent pandemic rages on with no end in sight,” ANA President Ernest Grant said. “Nurses alone cannot solve this longstanding issue and it is not our burden to carry. If we truly value the immeasurable contributions of the nursing workforce, then it is imperative that HHS utilize all available authorities to address this issue.”

Grant’s comments come as the New York Times in its Aug. 23 edition published an article, “Nursing Is in Crisis: Staff Shortages Put Patients at Risk,” that revealed that more than 1,200 nurses have been killed by coronavirus-related illnesses. In late August, many retired or former nurses in Nebraska have received notices from the state government asking them to come back into service with bonuses as high as $5,000 and with no requirement to be vaccinated. Many nursing journals and scholars say the U.S. faces a critical shortage of nurses until 2030.

In May 2021, “The American Nursing Shortage: A Data Study,” published by the University of St. Augustine for Health Science, revealed that 1.2 million new registered nurses will be needed by 2030 to meet the needs of the present shortage. The shortage challenges will be compounded by a prediction from a 2015 study that over one million nurses will retire between the present and 2030.

Meeting the Challenge

In his letter to HHS, Grant wants the Biden administration to convene stakeholders to identify short- and long-term solutions to staffing challenges, work with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services to promote payment equity for nurses, educate the nation on the importance of the coronavirus vaccine, sustain a nursing workforce that meets current and staffing demands and provide additional resources including recruitment and retention incentives to attract students to the nursing profession and keep skilled professionals working.

“ANA stands ready to work with HHS and other stakeholders on a whole government approach to ensure we have a strong nursing workforce today and in the future,” Grant said. “Our nation must have a robust nursing workforce at peak health and wellness to administer COVID-19 vaccines, educate communities, and provide safe patient care for millions of Americans. We cannot be a healthy nation until we commit to addressing the underlying, chronic nursing workforce challenges that have persisted for decades.”

Nurses have many mental challenges facing them as they deal with the pandemic, reduced public health care budgets and persistent long working hours, nursing experts say. To help alleviate the problem of stress in the profession, the Pfizer Foundation awarded the National Black Nurses Association a $1 million grant to support nurse wellness during the pandemic and $40,000 for coronavirus assistance for seniors.

“We are so grateful for the generous gifts of the Pfizer Foundation,” Dr. Martha A. Dawson, president of the National Black Nurses Association, said. “The mental well-being of our nurses is in serious jeopardy. As nurses are treating COVID-19 and risking their lives, they are still humans fighting through depression, mental illness and anxiety.”

On the employment front, some hospitals in the Washington, D.C. area are taking on the nursing shortage, such as the Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center. Tina Bergeron Sheesly, director of public relations and marketing with Adventist said the hospital system will utilize agencies or parti-time nurses and reassigning nurses to the busiest units, WTTG-TV (Channel 5) reported on July 21.

“Adventist HealthCare also is using several innovative strategies to recruit new nurses to our system, such as a nurse residency program for recent graduates,” Sheesly said, WTTG reported.

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