Omicron to have crushing impact on nurse shortage, expert warns

Text size

Nursing shortages made worse by the pandemic are likely to persist for years, research says. (Photo by APU GOMES / AFP via Getty Images).

Nursing shortages made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic are likely to persist for years, pushing up wages and healthcare costs while cutting spending for non-hospital spending, according to the author of a recent study. nurses such as equipment or new medical technologies.

The Omicron variant could compound that trend by causing a second wave of retirements among veteran hospital staff who had hoped to wait until the pandemic was over, while altering the career paths of nursing school applicants who had postponed the ‘registration for a relatively short period. distance learning.

“If you’re a hospital executive and want to replace beds, have a new ultrasound, or buy some new technology someone invented, you might have to say, ‘We don’t have room in the budget. ”Said Joanne Spetz. , director of the Institute for Health Policy Studies at the University of California at San Francisco, a leading medical research institution.

Spetz is co-author of a study predicting that the shortfall of 40,000 nurses in California will persist through 2026, thanks to experienced nurses leaving the field due to burnout and young people postponing nursing school in because of distance learning protocols. Spetz says his findings echo information from other parts of the country.

The Omicron variant would exacerbate these trends if the remaining veteran nurses throw in the towel and if applicants to nursing schools change their career plans for good. The first wave of retirements and postponed studies began when a vaccine was in the works. Many of those who resist vaccines have stifled dreams of a short-lived seizure.

“No one could have estimated the extent to which healthcare workers would face largely preventable infections,” Spetz said.

Other trends that have made headlines, such as the layoff of unvaccinated medical workers or quarantine requirements for staff exposed to the virus, have not proven to be significant long-term causes of staff shortages. .

According to the UC San Francisco study, 26% of nurses aged 55 to 64 planned to retire or quit within two years, more than double the usual rate. Those who stay at work earn thousands of dollars a year in hospital raises. Groups such as the National Nurses United, meanwhile, have called for increased staffing requirements that may require additional pay increases. Democrats in Congress support legislation that would require higher staffing levels.

Intense demand related to Covid, along with federal aid to hospitals, has increased the salaries of so-called ‘travel nurses’ who have left their regular jobs to work for employment agencies that transport contract nurses to the hospital. highest bidder hospital. But this trend could be short-lived.

“If the pandemic abates, we imagine these travel opportunities will diminish,” Spetz said.

A shortage of experienced nurses and recent nursing school graduates, however, could persist for some time.

Write to Matt Smith at [email protected]

Comments are closed.