(and it’s not COVID)
Hospitals and nursing homes are experiencing a deadly staffing crisis, but COVID is not solely to blame. Certainly, the latest omicron mutation of COVID has exacerbated worker shortages across many industries, but experts believe that the pandemic is merely exposing a health care staffing problem that already existed. As with many of the problems facing the corporate for-profit healthcare system in the United States, the nursing shortage is a wound that was self-inflicted.
The main cause: To cut costs and raise profits, the nursing home and hospital industries maintain dangerously low staffing levels. That was true before COVID, but as the pandemic has overwhelmed hospitals and nursing homes, the virus has merely made a bad problem much worse. When nurses are asked to care for more patients than they can reasonably manage, it creates a hellish situation for these front-line professionals, and it causes preventable suffering and death for the people they are trying to care for. With COVID drastically increasing the workload and making the current workforce sick and demoralized, the situation is grim, and it’s forcing talented, dedicated people to leave the profession.
Here are the three main reasons for nursing shortages:
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Even before COVID, the for-profit health care system in the United States had a shortage of nurses – by choice. Nursing homes and hospitals are businesses whose primary goal is to make money. Staffing accounts for roughly 40%-50% of a hospital or nursing home’s budget. To drive higher profits, the easiest method is to cut spending on labor. That means fewer nurses. The accepted standard is 1 nurse for every 4 patients, but the reality of nursing homes is far worse than that, and the results are fatal.
The medical journal the Lancet estimates that if you’re in a hospital, your chances of dying in that hospital goes up a whopping 7% for every other patient your nurse has to serve. It is not just a problem that faces the sick and elderly; it’s a problem that affects all of us.
Nursing Burn Out
The New York Times recently published a poignant video in which actual nurses describe how miserable the healthcare profession has become for nurses on a daily basis (and how that contributes to preventable injury and death for patients). The New York Times piece asserts that the shortage of available nurses is a myth. Rather, it is a simple matter of healthcare industry greed that intentionally maintains low staffing levels to drive profits in hospitals across the United States. Healthcare workers in hospitals and nursing homes are expected to work harder, longer hours and serve more patients than one human can possibly care for, leading to mistakes, despair, and rampant burn out among nurses.
Deliberately low staffing levels create a toxic workplace where nurses are physically, verbally, and mentally abused on a regular basis by frustrated patients and their families. It also creates a level of despair and surrender, as nurses fight an unwinnable battle. Many nurses feel that they cannot do their job the way they were taught due to hospital penny-pinching, and while management types make business decisions, it the nurse that must witness the terrible effects on patients. They watch people suffer and die for profit, and they experience that trauma on a far-too regular basis in ever-longer shifts. It’s no surprise that some 43% of nurses are considering leaving the profession, according to a Vivian Health Report.
No Plan for Worker Sick Time
It’s not surprising that healthcare workers are using more sick time. According to a workforce data analysis by Premier, some intensive care units are seeing a 50% increase in sick time usage, compared to pre-pandemic. Omicron is an even more contagious form of COVID, and as more of its victims are flooding hospitals and nursing homes, more nurses are going to become infected, even as vaccination rates among the profession continue to rise.
In a pre-pandemic world, many of these healthcare workers would have braved through their illnesses, but these days, the healthcare workers have a duty to stay at home when they’re symptomatic. The industry simply does not intend to hire any more people than the bare minimum they are required, which is based on a perfect world scenario that never existed. Instead, the industry depends on healthy workers to pick up the slack by picking up extra shifts for their sick colleagues, which contributes to frustration, despair, and eventual burn out.
Until the hospital and nursing home industries make a profound priority shift and begin taking the necessary steps to protect vulnerable patients and residents, there will continue to be avoidable injuries and deaths due to their negligence. Our attorneys at Brown & Barron, LLC focus on representing the victims of medical malpractice and nursing home abuse/neglect. We know first-hand how these facilities function, and just how vulnerable patients and residents are to injuries. If you believe you or a family member has suffered as a result of medical malpractice or nursing home negligence, we invite you to contact our team as soon as possible to learn more about your rights and options. To contact our team, call (410) 547-0202 today for a consultation.
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