Local health care organizations talk New York nurse shortage

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A medical worker passes a tent outside the emergency room at UCI Medical Center in Irvine, Calif. California is desperately searching for nurses, doctors and other medical staff, perhaps from overseas, to meet demands as the coronavirus surge pushes hospitals across the state to the breaking point. With many of the state’s hospitals running out of capacity to treat the severest cases, the state has brought in and deployed more than 500 extra staff but it needs a total of 3,000 temporary medical staff members. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, File)

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10)- It’s a problem under more scrutiny as stories of overburdened hospitals in various states struggle to provide care while their most valuable resource- nurses -remain stressed at historic levels. Two of the region’s largest healthcare employers said local hospitals are not immune to the nursing shortage and have been struggling to recruit nurses.

Researchers have been ringing the bell on the nation’s nursing shortage years before the COVID-19 pandemic. By 2030 there is a projected shortage of more than 39,000 registered nurses (RN) in New York, according to a report put out by the New York State Department of Health (DOH) in August 2020.

“As healthcare systems struggle to meet new recruitment and retention challenges, they are also struggling to meet the high patient volume we are seeing from our communities. Many healthcare systems have been forced to rely on external sources such as agencies to fill the gaps caused by staffing shortages. This places a significant strain on today’s healthcare system,” said a St. Peter’s Health Partners spokesperson.

“We are facing the same challenges as every other U.S. health care system, but our team is meeting those challenges head-on, continuing to provide the level of care our community expects and deserves,” Albany Medical Center’s Communications Vice President, Matthew Markham said.

How bad is the state’s nursing shortage? New York averaged 12.25 nurses per 1,000 people (per capita) in the state in 2018, based on a breakdown from Nurse Journal. It’s slightly above the national average of 12.06 nurses per capita but it’s better than states like South Carolina (7.89), Nevada (9.22), California (9.25), and Texas (9.62). North Dakota (16.4), Vermont (17.63), Wyoming (19.86), and Washington DC (18.41) have the most nurses per capita.

Top ten states for nurses per capita

  1. Wyoming 19.86
  2. Washington DC 18.41
  3. Vermont 17.63
  4. North Dakota 16.4
  5. Delaware 16.22
  6. Massachusetts 16.04
  7. Maine 16
  8. Minnesota 15.78
  9. Ohio 15.74
  10. Wisconsin 15.2

Bottom ten states for nurses per capita

42. Idaho 10.52
43. Virginia 10.52
44. Rhode Island 10.39
45. Arizona 10.39
46. Washington 10.26
47. Georgia 10.23
48. Texas 9.62
49. California 9.25
50. Nevada 9.22
51. South Carolina 7.89

The majority of states bordering New York had more RN’s per capita including Pennsylvania (15.09), Vermont (17.63), Massachusetts (16.04), Connecticut (14.75). New Jersey is the only state with fewer RN’s per capita than New York, 10.93, according to Nurse Journal.

Reasons for the nursing shortage vary and it cannot all be attributed to recruitment. Nurse Journal and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) both say it is also due to not having enough room in schools to train additional nurses, an aging population, nurses retiring and high turnover.

The AACN said they estimate approximately 75,000 qualified applicants were not accepted into baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2018 because they did not have the classroom space, faculty, or training facilities to accept more students.

“Although more RN graduates are entering the workforce each year, New York State hospitals that participated in a 2017 study on workforce trends reported difficulty recruiting and retaining RNs, both experienced (more than two years) and newly licensed. Nursing homes also reported difficulty recruiting RNs, both experienced and newly licensed, but noted that CNAs were the most difficult to retain,” the DOH said in its report.

St. Peter’s acknowledges its difficulty hiring nurses. “Recruitment challenges, however, are not unique to healthcare. It’s a problem that businesses across the globe are facing right now. For the safety and health of our communities, it’s important that we understand the value of the healthcare professional within our society. We need to encourage today’s youth to get into the field,” a hospital spokesperson said.

Albany Med is offering a $1,000 referral bonus to currently employed nurses who refer other nurses. The only catch is that new referrals have to remain employed by Albany Med for at least a year. Albany Med also offers financial and academic help to its patient care associates, medical techs, licensed practical nurses, and other employees who want to become an RN while working at the hospital.

“Albany Med’s workforce is our most important asset. Comprising a quarter of all our colleagues, our nurses are at the heart of our mission. Nurses have been beacons of hope through the pandemic, and that has reminded our community of the critical role they play in keeping us all safe and healthy, especially when we need them most,” said Markham.

St. Peter’s is giving RN’s with backgrounds in Acute Care a $5,000 sign-on bonus. If an RN is referred by a St. Peter’s employee, both the RN and the employee will each get $5,000.

“For the safety and health of our communities, it’s important that we understand the value of the healthcare professional within our society. We need to encourage today’s youth to get into the field. Nursing provides a caring and compassionate career option,” the St. Peter’s spokesperson said.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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