A Dangerous Nursing Shortage Must Be Addressed In Face Of 'Silver Tsunami'


                                                            By Mike Schlegel

In a post-COVID world, many industries and professions find themselves questioning the future. The problem for nursing is that this was a profession facing major struggles pre-pandemic.

Staffing shortages and increasing workloads have left nurses feeling more burnt out than ever before. There may be dire consequences for hospitals here and around the nation.

A 2022 survey found that 75% of nurses reported feeling stressed, frustrated or exhausted, while 52% reported considering leaving their position all together. Even worse, these trends show no signs of improving any time soon.

The nursing shortage is nothing new, as the demand for qualified nurses has always been much greater than the supply. This problem has only become much more apparent post-pandemic. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports that between 2020 and 2021 over 100,000 nurses left the profession.

These trends will only continue as the baby boomer generation advances in age, simultaneously leaving the profession and increasing healthcare demands within an already strained system. This looming catastrophe even has a name: "Silver Tsunami.” By 2030, it is projected that 42 out of 50 states will experience a shortfall in qualified nurses as a result.

Overburdened, overworked nurses lead to higher mortality rate

This looming shortfall only creates more stress on an already overburdened nursing floor. As more nurses leave the profession, the ones who stayed are forced to take on more and more of the patient load to bridge the gap. This not only increases burnout and dissatisfaction, but most importantly places patients in potentially dangerous situations.

A recent study found that that each additional patient increases the in-hospital mortality rate by 19%. This is an alarming statistical increase within a system currently trending in the wrong direction.

Hospitals are at a risk of closing

The critical lack of qualified nurses is sending waves well beyond the nursing floor and seriously affecting the healthcare industry as a whole.

A report from February 2024 by the healthcare advisory firm Chartis states that up to 418 hospitals are at risk of closure, citing staffing shortages as a major contributing factor.

The states most affected by the closures include Texas, Tennessee, Kansas, Missouri and Georgia. Many of these hospitals are located in rural areas of the country, a region that is already severely under-served and lacking in access to basic healthcare.

One solution, which may seem counterintuitive, is the implementation of safe staffing ratios. While this may increase demand further in the short term, it would go a long way in preventing the high rates of burnout and attrition that are widespread throughout the industry.

Currently, California and Massachusetts are the only states with RN staffing ratio laws on the books. Nine other states, including Ohio, participate in hospital-based staffing committees; the vast majority of the nurse-to-patient ratios in the healthcare industry are set at the hospital’s discretion.

Nursing faces serious obstacles

Nursing has long been a noble profession that acted as the cornerstone of the hospital. It is also an industry facing serious obstacles in the years to come.

It does not have to be this way.

At the end of the day, until we can find a way to both keep current nurses at the bedside, as well as attract new graduates, the problems facing our hospitals will continue to deteriorate. Unless these problems are resolved before the Silver Tsunami hits, things will get much worse.

Mike Schlegel is the nursing program director at Cuyahoga Community College's metropolitan campus.


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