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The Long-term Impact of COVID-19 on the Nursing Shortage

As a nurse, and a healthcare staffing professional, I can say that the COVID-19 pandemic has been “unique.”  I worked as an RN during HIV and was providing healthcare personnel during H1N1, SARS, and Ebola. Never before March 2020 had I seen the extremes as we have seen during this COVID-19 pandemic.

We have seen an all-time high increase in nurse orders, to be followed by all-time highs in order cancellations. We have seen nurse contracts canceled, COVID, and non-COVID.

We have seen an all-time high for pay for nurses to work with COVID patients, yet also seen nurses be furloughed and not needed or redeployed

What could we possibly see as outcomes long-term from this pandemic?

  1. Nurses leaving nursing faster than previously anticipated.

Nurses have had to navigate extreme stress, whether furloughed, working in COVID units, shortages of PPE, or regular long hours, and nurses have become infected (and a number have died) with COVID through caring for patients in the regular course of their work

  1. Nurses used to feel that their positions were “recession-proof” and yet over 250 hospitals and additional healthcare facilities have laid off nurses. Travel nurse contracts are being canceled and nurses are not able to find positions
     
  2. New grads, returning retirees, and nurses who worked in other areas were placed in assignments with minimal training/orientation. What will job satisfaction and employee retention look like in 6 months and one year from now?  Additionally, what will the impact be for students in nursing school or contemplating nursing school who are not able to complete clinicals during this COVID 19 pandemic?

“The concern with bringing in retired nurses during a surge, there’s no one available to train them,” Tommye Austin said. “I couldn’t take a nurse that’s been out of practice for three to five years and put them to work in the hospital.” University Health System, Chief Nurse Executive

  1. Telemedicine has exploded. Doctors, clinics, and even urgent care made advancements in this area.  The consumer has not quite caught up but is evolving with this change in the delivery model. It will be interesting to see how insurance companies continue to adjust to this trend, i.e. requiring more visits, fees for service vs. value-based care. We are going to need to evaluate outcomes from telemedicine vs hands-on, along with how certain demographics embrace, adapt and measure outcomes. Doctor’s offices/clinics may need less nursing support if this happens but could also need more to intake calls and triage for the doctor. And as we have seen, Nurse Practitioners are in demand. More to come, but I do not foresee telemedicine going away post-COVID.
     
  2. Hiring – Human Resource and Talent Acquisition specialists have been involved in reactive activities, dealing with COVID situations, working/hiring remote, and modifying current policies. This has potentially delayed hiring for core positions within a healthcare facility. 

 

Healthcare will rebound. With this being said, it will not be overnight. Outpatient services, surgeries, and doctor offices/clinics, which also refer patients to inpatient, continue to be gradual. Additionally, consumers’ fears of being in the ER or in a hospital bed will lessen over time. Healthcare organizations are going to be more cost-conscious in light of the negative financial COVID impact to their facility.   Healthcare facilities will be looking for flexible cost-effective means for staffing. The shortage of nurses will deepen as more nurses will leave nursing sooner than later and retirees will move back into retirement. 

As a staffing company, we too need to continue to be nimble and flexible. We need to be understanding of both the nurse and the healthcare facility as we navigate this recovery stage. The critical impact the nurse has on the patient, the family, and the healthcare facility has never been more center stage. As a nurse, there has never been so much attention shown to the importance and the impact the nurse role plays. We need to promote this and keep this energy alive.

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