A Personal View of Staff Shortages in Healthcare and Nurse Burnout
The story of one nurse is the story of many. We’ll call her Susan. She’s an ICU nurse in a prominent metropolitan hospital. When asked about measures being taken to remedy staffing shortages and patient safety, her response says it all: “It’s like tossing a band-aid at a hemorrhage—treating the symptom is not treating the disease.”
Post-Pandemic Nursing Staff Shortages — the Long-Term Outlook
Although nursing shortages have been an ongoing problem, omicron onslaught has only added to the growing issue. And the problem shows no sign of a quick turnaround. The sheer magnitude of the staff shortage is being seen, not only in lost staff but in lost revenues and the threat to patient safety.
The numbers say it all:
The American Association of Critical Care Nurses surveyed 6,500 ICU nurses in September 2021; 92 percent noted that the pandemic has caused an acute shortage in the profession, and 66 percent are thinking about leaving their careers due to pandemic stress.
US News stated that “the nation will need an additional 1.2 million nurses by next year” to make up for those leaving the profession.
One leading healthcare system reported an increase of $440M in operating costs in 2021 alone due in large part to workforce disruption.
COVID-19’s impact, as noted in Reuters, shows that nursing shortages are having a dramatic impact globally– including some disturbing mortality figures. “At least 115,000 nurses have died from COVID” — but the actual figure is probably twice that.
The Patient Impact of Staff Shortages in Healthcare
These statistics only begin to hint at the emotional toll the pandemic is taking on nurses who are on the front lines. A lot has been written about this, but for a ‘day in the life,’ we return to critical care nurse, Susan.
This situation is dangerous for both the patient and the nurse. Patient safety becomes a risk factor. When nursing shortages prevail, this results in a domino effect: lower quality of care, higher patient mortality, overcrowded ERs, and medication errors due to inadequate staffing and excessive overtime.
“Nurses have to be on the lookout for clinical deterioration. This means changes in skin coloration, mental responsiveness, slight changes in temperature, pulse, and a range of other indicators. If a nurse is overburdened with too many critically ill patients, a progression of symptoms can go unnoticed and result in a delay of needed treatment. I’ve told my supervisor, this isn’t safe. I want the administration to know this is putting the patient and me at risk. And now it’s happening every day.”
The burnout rate due to COVID-19 has been huge. There has been a mass exodus at many hospitals. As a result, elective surgeries have been put on hold. According to Susan, “At my hospital, this is not just knees and hips, but vital surgeries like valve replacements and cancer surgeries. Many hospitals are operating in the red; surgery is a key source of revenue. My hospital is trying to ramp up, but the staffing shortage is making this next to impossible.”
Once again, statistics support Susan’s perspective:
A survey from Hospital & Healthcare Services (HCS) found the national turnover rate for RNs increased from 34.8 percent in 2020 to 40.5 percent in 2021.
According to Nursing Solutions Inc. (NSI), turnover has caused diminishing hospital margins. Survey results show the average cost of turnover for a bedside RN is over $40,000 and can be as high as $52,000. This results in the average hospital losing between $3.5M to $6.5M each year.
Technology Can Help Nurture and Preserve the Healthcare Workforce
At Stericycle Communication Solutions, we take a unique and personalized approach to nursing shortages. Our Health & Wellness Campaigns can provide support to help nurses and other medical staff best utilize their Employee Assistance Program (EAP) benefits, which are a common asset found in a benefits package. Typical EAP packages can include support for:
Mental health issues
The solution offers a tech-enabled way to manage outreach campaigns for healthcare organizations that lack the time and resources to do it themselves.
Working on behalf of the healthcare provider, we offer multilingual, clinical, and non-clinical live voice services, including ongoing communication through outbound calls and messages, online chat, and by answering inbound calls. The goal is to provide a communication bridge for both patients and staff struggling with isolation, stress, trauma, and other health issues during periods of crisis.
Here are a few other ways that we can help support and relieve your staff:
COVID-19 hotlines to answer patients’ questions or concerns
Outbound calls to schedule appointments
Appointment prep instruction calls
Clinical and non-clinical post-discharge follow-up
Primary care physician recapture
Patient portal and telehealth support
How It Worked for the Staff at CHRISTUS Health
At the height of COVID-19, CHRISTUS Health, a Catholic, not-for-profit health ministry, reached out to us to help with staff burnout and address why staff weren’t utilizing their EAP program benefits.
Here are the multiple challenges that CHRISTUS Health faced:
The impacts of staff shortages and the overwhelming stress resulting from COVID-19
The need for a supportive strategy and method to address resilience
The need for their EAP program to perform a high volume of outbound calls
The solution was to give CHRISTUS Health a way to proactively reach out to clinicians and nursing staff and offer them comfort, counseling, and much-needed support. Our Health & Wellness Campaigns included some vital tactics. Agents, trained in a range of specialties, performed all outbound calls, providing empathy and, if necessary, a referral to the EAP or CHRISTUS chaplains.
Needless to say, CHRISTUS was pleased with the outcome. Not only did they see an increase in EAP benefits usage, but they also felt their employees embraced the heightened support from their leadership. According to George Avila, System Vice President, Mission Integration, CHRISTUS Health:
“Using Stericycle Health & Wellness Campaigns for associate, not patient, outreach was new — both for us and for Stericycle. Our trusted relationship provided the foundation to dream and learn together in kinship and partnership. The CHRISTUS Health Associate Wellbeing Check-in Program wouldn’t be possible without Stericycle, who was able to think creatively and take a risk with us.”
We are in a time when healthcare is severely lacking empathy. Employing such a program ensures your staff feels comforted and supported during these challenging times. Susan summed it up nicely, “Many in the nursing profession were told, ‘don’t come to work unless you’re willing to work with COVID-19 patients—before we even knew what it was. But nurses take an oath: they have to help people, even if they put themselves at risk; they won’t say no. By nature, we have big hearts….”
To learn more about how our Health & Wellness Campaigns helped CHRISTUS Health, watch our on-demand webinar with CHRISTUS Health.