Adverse Impact on Health Systems by Nursing Shortage
Dorothy, in a fetal position, was laying on a stretcher in a hospital hallway. She was fragile, slim, vulnerable, and shaking with cold. She was frightened and all alone with no family around. She had a low-grade fever being a sign of sepsis in the elderly. Her skin was flimsy with skin tears and bruises at different stages, patterning her whole body. She hadn’t been eating or drinking and was without heat and food. She was admitted for pneumonia, chest pain, and dehydration.
Her husband had died several weeks ago from cancer. Dorothy’s heart wasn’t diseased; it was shattered from a broken heart.
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I carefully tucked a warm blanket around her. I found her a pre-made turkey sandwich, made her a cup of hot tea, and held her hands as she told me about her husband, Bob, of 58 years. Being able to hold a person’s hand at their most vulnerable and helpless moment of life was a blessing and a privilege for me as a nurse.
Dorothy, eventually, sat up straight as I held her hands. She thanked me and said I had saved her life. I felt I done no such thing but had only given her something meaningful as a healthcare provider: caring, respect, dignity, compassion, empathy, and time. Without having enough staffing that night, I would not be able to provide this simple act of care for Dorothy. When there is adequate staffing, nurses can deliver exceptional quality care to patients. There is no better reward than that.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately three million American nurses contribute to the largest of the healthcare workforce in the United States. Nursing is one of the fastest growing and most needed profession in this country today. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that registered nursing jobs would increase by more than 15 percent by 2026, which is faster than any other occupations — with more than 1 million jobs openings. If there is no national policy to construct a workforce of nurses, there will be broken patient healthcare systems across the country; impacting patient care.
Today’s nursing shortage around the world has an adverse impact on health systems. The nursing profession itself is in crisis. An apparent problem with the nursing shortage is that nurses are forced to work with high nurse-to-patient ratios. More patients will suffer due to an increase in injury and falls, an increase in infection rate, or being sent home without adequate education relating to their illness or injury. Nurses are an important part of patient care. Doctors, pharmacists, social workers, etc. often base their treatment and plan of care on the assessments completed by the nurses.
The United States nursing shortage has been a concern for decades and is alarming to comprehend. With the baby boomers retiring, the increasing rate of chronic diseases, the increasing number of nurses leaving the profession, and the limited capacity of nursing schools — the nursing shortage is on the edge of becoming a catastrophe. According to American Association of Colleges of Nursing, nursing schools in the U.S. turned down more than 50,000 qualified applicants from a nursing program in 2017 due to an inadequate number of faculty, limited clinical preceptors and sites, limited classroom space, and budget restrictions.
Nationwide, there are many more of patients like Dorothy, alone and frightened. Anyone of us might be like her one day, dependent on receiving care from a stranger during our vulnerable time. In that most vulnerable moment, the only thing that can make a difference in a patient’s life is the compassion and kindness provided by a nurse. Hospitals and care facilities must have adequate staffing to meet the patient’s needs. Implementation of lowering the patient to nurse ratio is required to improve quality care and patient safety. Nurses will always be needed — the nursing profession makes otherwise frightening experiences enduring for patients and their families.