Is the nursing shortage a public health concern?
With any workforce shortage comes a slew of impacts and repercussions. Unfortunately, the numerous impacts the nursing shortage has had reaches across all types of regions and communities in the United States. Rural areas are particularly vulnerable to the precarious environment of a healthcare system lacking in nurses and sufficient funding.
With these impacts, it is imperative that communities acknowledge and are aware of what a nursing shortage means for the public. The nursing shortage is not just something that is happening elsewhere. It impacts our communities, our neighbors, friends, and family members. It very well may be directly impacting ourselves, whether we know it or not.
Here are some of the reasons why the nursing shortage should matter to you:
1. Difficult healthcare access
Many patients seeking either general or specialized care have to drive long distances to get to a health center. This negatively impacts people in rural communities who don’t always have clinics or hospitals in their towns or even in any of the towns nearby. This impact is compounded by the healthcare workforce shortage.
2. Lack of funding for rural hospitals
Many rural hospitals aren’t getting the funding they need to provide competitive wages and benefits for their workers. Unfortunately this also means that despite lower wages and less benefits, nurses are working more hours with more responsibilities. This leads to higher burnout rates, job dissatisfaction, and an increase in employees quitting or leaving the field.
3. Increase in workplace errors
With more nurses feeling burnt out and exhausted, this increases the chances of medical errors. These errors can lead to health complications. Unfortunately, they can also, in some cases, lead to patient deaths. Our brains and bodies need time to rejuvenate and rest. The increase of nurses burning out means they cannot perform their tasks with complete accuracy or concentration, thus leading to increased error rates.
4. Less people are seeking care
If healthcare services are less accessible, more people will not seek healthcare when they should. This may mean they are skipping or not scheduling appointments, not getting treatment, or not getting emergency care. This can lead to an increase in health complications and death. The decreased rate of people seeking care ties into the long-distance travel for healthcare issue that was mentioned in number 1.
5. Less experienced nurses in the field
Many healthcare employers are hiring less experienced or trained nurses to fill the large number of open positions. Considering point #2 above, smaller budgets often mean that hospitals and other healthcare facilities cannot afford to hire more experienced or better trained nurses, including ones with specialty qualifications.
Many of these impacts apply to all areas of the country, but they are especially detrimental to rural communities. Lives are literally at stake and due to the nature of healthcare and the nursing profession, the direct impacts to community livelihood means that the nursing shortage should be considered and treated as a top priority. The nursing shortage is a public health concern. Appropriate actions need to be made immediately so we can anticipate the increased shortage projected to hit 1 million nurses by 2030.
So what can we do? What is already being done to fix this issue? Next week’s blog will shed a little light on these questions. ‘Til next time!