(Adapted from an article originally appearing on Reuters, October 21, 2017)
The nursing shortage hit West Virginia’s Charleston Area Medical Center at the worst time.
The non-profit healthcare system is one of the state’s largest employers and sits in the heart of economically depressed coal country. It’s struggling with fewer privately insured patients, cuts in government reimbursement and higher labor costs to attract a shrinking pool of nurses.
To keep its operations intact, Charleston Medical is spending this year $12 million on visiting or “travel” nurses, twice as much as three years ago. It had no need for travel nurses a decade ago.
“I’ve been a nurse 40 years, and the shortage is the worst I’ve ever seen it,” said Ron Moore, who retired in October from his position as vice president and chief nursing officer for the center. “It’s better to pay a traveler than to shut a bed,” he said.
Hospitals nationwide face tough choices when it comes to filling nursing jobs. They are paying billions of dollars collectively to recruit and retain nurses rather than risk patient safety or closing down departments, according to Reuters interviews with more than 20 hospitals, including some of the largest U.S. chains.
In addition to higher salaries, retention and signing bonuses, they now offer perks such as student loan repayment, free housing and career mentoring, and rely more on foreign or temporary nurses to fill the gaps.
The cost nationwide for travel nurses alone nearly doubled over three years to $4.8 billion in 2017, according to Staffing Industry Analysts, a global advisor on workforce issues.
The burden falls disproportionately on hospitals serving rural communities, many of them already straining like the Charleston Area Medical Center.
These hospitals must offer more money and benefits to compete with facilities in larger metropolitan areas, many of them linked to well-funded universities, interviews with hospital officials and health experts show.
Not Like Other Nursing Shortages
PassportUSA supplied CAMC with internationally-trained nurses to reduce use of travel RNs, reduce costs, and improve nurse retention rates. Along the way their proportion of BSN-prepared nurse climbed as well.
Nursing shortages have occurred in the past, but the current crisis is far worse. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there will be more than a million registered nurse openings by 2024, twice the rate seen in previous shortages.
A major driver is the aging of the baby boomer generation, with a greater number of patients seeking care, including many more complex cases, and a new wave of retirements among trained nurses.
Industry experts, from hospital associations to Wall Street analysts, say the crisis is harder to address than in the past. A faculty shortage and too few nursing school slots has contributed to the problem.
Hospitals seek to meet a goal calling for 80 percent of nursing staff to have a four-year degree by 2020, up from 50 percent in 2010. They also face more competition with clinics and insurance companies that may offer more flexible hours.
Healthcare experts warn that the shortfall presents risks to patients and providers. Research published in August in the International Journal of Nursing Studies found that having inadequate numbers of registered nurses on staff made it more likely that a patient would die after common surgeries.
Smaller hospitals find it much harder to compete in this climate. More than 40 percent of rural hospitals had negative operating margins in 2015, according to The Chartis Center for Rural Health.
SOURCE: READ THE FULL ARTICLE FROM REUTERS
Editing by Michele Gershberg and Edward Tobin
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