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The Crisis: A Shortage of Healthcare Workers

Posted by Mark on October 13th, 2006

Lately there has been a lot written about the shortage of nurses and the potential effects that are sure to result from it. It is well known that a scarcity of healthcare workers causes an increase in adverse outcomes to patients. The Department of Health and Human Services released a report based on 5 million patient discharges from 799 hospitals. They concluded that the optimal RN staffing level prevented complications. With proper staffing levels of nurses the study estimates a 3% - 12% reduction in an extended length of stay, urinary tract infections and other complications (Stanton 3). The labor shortage is not confined to nurses. As stated by the American Hospital Association in their 2005 Annual survey 8.5% are RNs, 7.6% are Nursing Assistants , 7.3% are Licensed Practicing Nurses, 4.4% are pharmacists, 5.9% for imaging technicians and 6.3% for laboratory technicians (American Hospital Association 11 ). It is estimated that by 2020 there will be a shortage of over 1,000,000 nurses. The inability to fill these positions is half the problem. The other half is that a majority of healthcare workers are approaching retirement (American Hospital Association 5-11). According to the Wisconsin Hospital Association, who conducted a study on the issue, "...today's health care workers are already relatively old and retiring at a rate that will exacerbate future shortages" (Wisconsin Hospital Association 3). The scenario is crystal clear, a large percentage of healthcare workers are approaching retirement age, providers are under staffed and the baby boomers are arriving at the door step of the healthcare system and they have expectations that they will receive the best medical care in the world.

Rewind...In the old days the healthcare field was looked upon as a viable profession that offered stable employment, respect, was technologically stimulating and intellectually challenging. These are job characteristics that I look for and most workers are also in search of. So what happened? Why is there a shortage of personnel to staff these positions? In reality, a full analysis is beyond the scope of this post, but here are a few suggestions. One possibility is that other technologies have evolved, especially in the field of information technology, which provides other options for professionals seeking these qualities in their career. Another potential reason is that we often hear the negative publicity surrounding medical errors, the high cost of malpractice insurance and so on. What we don't hear about are the people that take pride in their work and the quality of care they deliver. But sometimes they can't always control what happens to a patient as a result of the multiple disciplines required to support the care we expect. This can cause enormous stress for the healthcare professional who is always asked to do more with less. I'm sure there are more reasons and I invite you to post your hypothesis.

I mentioned earlier that as staffing levels drop, the incidence of poor care will increase which consequently drives the cost of care up. Another possibility to consider; in an attempt to lure employees, providers will offer more lucrative pay packages and benefits; this money has to come from some where. So where does this leave the consumer?

We haven't felt the broad impact of this situation yet. However, it's on its way and we need to consider it when we choose healthcare providers. We need to know, as patients, what we and our loved ones can do to make sure we don't experience the mal effects of this shortage. What can we do to help become good stewards to ensure the continuity of a system that is suppose to be the best medical care offered? Here are a few suggestions:

1) Quit smoking

2) Exercise regularly

3) Lose weight

4) See your family doctor for regularly scheduled visits.

5) Pay attention to what our doctors say and make every effort to understand what is expected of us as patients.

6) Seek quality medical care that is affordable and research those options.

7) Become advocates of our own care and work toward the shortest hospital stay as possible.

8) Be considerate of the healthcare professionals that work hard to make our healthcare experience successful.

9) Do all in our power to have some form of health insurance

10) Make sure we follow instructions provided by healthcare professionals and treat each healthcare professional with respect.

11) Try to use as little of the healthcare resources available as possible.

12) Seek appropriate levels of care based on our medical needs.

13) Follow the advice of many of the professional organization such as the American Heart Association, American Lung Association and others.

All of these suggestions are parts of living a healthy, proactive life style. The staffing situation may rectify itself but in the mean time it's up to the consumer to become their own advocate for quality care and taking responsibility for successfully navigating the healthcare system. It's up to us to make a difference and drive change!add to del.icio.us

2 Responses to “The Crisis: A Shortage of Healthcare Workers”


    Fantastic site.


    Health care workers are not managed well. Either the health care system cannot support the inflationary salaries yearly or they would like to collect huge profits compromising on patient care.