The shortages people you've heard about at hospitals: It's here.  And it's going to get worse.

There's been a lot of talk in the news over the last two years about shortages at medical facilities.  And while most of it has been focused on the availability of beds and supplies, focusing on those two issues doesn't get to the core of the problem.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has stretched staffing and supplies thin - resulting in the much-reported "shortage" of hospital beds, the virus itself doesn't cause the issue; it all comes down to staffing. Simply put - a hospitals capacity is determined in large part by the number of staff members it has to attend to patients.  It only stands to reason that if a hospital has less staff members on duty that it can't handle as many patients as it can when operating at full capacity.

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The reasons why a hospital operates below capacity for staff are many.  Illness.  Burn out.  Better jobs and competition - primarily through "travel nursing".  Retirement. And if you listen to the experts who follow the medical field closely, things are only getting worse.

An article in the Superior Telegram [paywall] details the dilemma that's facing health care in the state of Wisconsin.  The recently-released Annual Workforce Report prepared by the Wisconsin Hospital Association (WHA) presents a gloomy picture of the situation.  So does a survey that was recently conducted by Incredible Health - a medical staffing company: "[That survey shows that] a third of nurses will leave their position by the end of 2022".  At the same time, the WHA reports that "nurse vacancy rates in Wisconsin [have hit] the double digits for the first time since 2005"; that report shared that "the nursing shortage has arrived".

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Here are some more sobering statistics outlined in the Wisconsin Hospital Association's report:

  • Certified nursing assistant turnover far exceeds every other segment of the hospital workforce
  • Prior to 2021, about 1 in 10 registered nurses changed jobs annually.  In 2021 that number was approaching 1 in 5
  • Prior to 2021, about 1 in 4 certified nursing assistants would change jobs.  In 2021 it was 1 in 3

As we stated earlier, many factors contribute to the large turnover that the medical field is experiencing right now.  While the pandemic did contribute - especially in regards to the "pent-up demand from care delayed early on" and now ravaging the health care industry, a lot of it was age related - at both ends of the spectrum.  There is a large group of older nurses that are nearing retirement age or, choosing to use the pandemic as a line-in-the-sand defining moment to embark on retirement.

Close-up of female doctor with stethoscope bandaging hand of male patient.
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At the younger end of the demographic is the changing culture that younger employees have towards work; Ann Zenk, Senior Vice President of Workforce and Clinical Practice for the Wisconsin Hospital Association shares that:

"Gen Z, millennials are much more mobile than Baby Boomers in terms of their willingness to leave a job for advancement of promotion in another job, and that higher turnover is something employers are going to have to work on".

Whatever the cause, the reports from the WHA details that the medical and healthcare industry needs to meet the challenges and take measures to increase staffing capacity to solve the problems of "a workforce that cannot grow fats enough and is now falling behind demand".

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