A State of Emergency
There is no question that the pandemic dealt a crippling blow to our national healthcare system. In a letter sent in March of this year to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the American Hospital Association called the workforce shortage hospitals were experiencing a “national emergency,” projecting the overall shortage of nurses to reach 1.1 million by the end of the year. And it’s not just nurses. Professionals from medical lab workers to paramedics are in short supply. And it doesn’t appear that we’ll be out of the woods anytime soon.
The Toll on Healthcare Workers
In a July article, US News and World Report described the impact that the pandemic has had on the healthcare industry. As the pandemic lingers, we still don’t know the full effect on healthcare workers and their patients. An estimated 1.5 million healthcare jobs were lost in the first two months of COVID-19 as the country raced to curb the virus by temporarily closing clinics and restricting non-emergency services at U.S. hospitals.
Though many of those jobs have since returned, healthcare employment remains below pre-pandemic levels. With fewer clinicians working in the field, practitioners are finding themselves responsible for a larger number of patients, fueling soaring burnout levels. And the strain hasn’t let up. A February 2022 survey conducted by USA Today of more than 1,100 healthcare workers found nearly a quarter of respondents said they were likely to leave the field in the near future due to the pandemic. Yet the need for healthcare workers has never been greater.
The Impact on Patients
Patients are feeling the sting in several ways. Many patients are changing how they access their healthcare due to the pandemic, which has created both opportunities and new challenges. For example, many patients have become accustomed to using digital tools like telehealth to tend to their primary care needs.
But, while fewer people are being hospitalized for severe COVID-19, more patients are showing up with severe ailments, creating a backlog of cases at facilities nationwide. Many of these cases stem from delayed care – people having postponed treatment either due to contagion fears or care restrictions enacted at the height of the pandemic. A diminished workforce signals a future where patients will likely have to become more active participants in their healthcare to achieve good outcomes.
The Road Ahead
Although hospital staffing challenges have changed with each new COVID wave, one concern has remained constant: the mental and physical burden that has been placed on healthcare workers.
Along with creative staffing solutions, many hospitals are trying to ease the burden by offering initiatives that provide employees with counseling support. Coupled with these efforts, hospitals are also allowing team members to work remotely as part of a broader retention strategy.
Whether due to labor costs, illness, or burnout, the long-term ramifications of current healthcare workforce shortages are likely to be felt well after the pandemic ends. By 2025, the U.S. is estimated to have a shortage of approximately 446,000 home health aides; 95,000 nursing assistants; 98,700 medical and lab technologists and technicians; and more than 29,000 nurse practitioners. How will the healthcare industry recover from the onslaught of this pandemic? The question remains to be answered.
Caregiver Recognition Never More Critical
Without a doubt, the healthcare industry is facing a severe crisis. Now more than ever, appreciation and acknowledgment of your healthcare workers’ dedication and self-sacrifice could not be more essential. A robust recognition and reward technology platform may be one of the most vital weapons you can have in restoring the well-being of your workers and the health of patients.