Hospital and Healthcare Worker Shortage May Get Worse Before It Gets Better

Hospital, Healthcare Worker Shortage May Get Worse

World markets enter 2022 with COVID-19 fears refreshed due to omicron, thousands of canceled holiday flights and events worldwide, and more alarming, a crushing labor shortage among essential workers from hospitals to retail stores as new disruptions exhaust staunch frontline workers who keep emergency rooms staffed, services running and shelves stocked.

Despite buoyancy felt through the winter gifting season as pre-pandemic behaviors picked up, notably travel planning and in-store shopping, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) announced in a December press release that job openings increased to 11 million unfilled positions at year’s end.

Healthcare is chief among sectors experiencing increasing labor pressures as omicron infections and fears drive more people to emergency rooms, exacerbating an already tough situation.

“Hospitals nationwide are canceling nonemergency surgeries, struggling to quickly find beds for patients and failing to meet the minimum nurse-patient ratios experts recommend,” Pew Research reported in December. “Some even have had to turn away critical patients.”

“While hospitals are under the most strain in Midwestern and Northeastern states where COVID-19 cases are surging, workforce shortages also are creating problems in Southern states where cases are relatively low — for now,” Pew said, adding, “Hospitals employ about 2% fewer people today than they did in March 2020, according to the [BLS].”

Should the burnout epidemic among frontline healthcare workers worsen and elective procedures fail to spring back quickly — as some, including Goldman Sachs, have warned — we may be in for a collective lesson in the limits of digital, and when only human caregivers will do.

Read also: Omicron Could Have ‘Major Impact’ on Pandemic

Government Steps in to Relieve Resources and Burnout

Responding to calls from nursing unions and other industry groups, on Dec. 21, 2021, President Joe Biden announced in a press release sweeping new support for hospitals, “directing Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to ready an additional 1,000 service members — military doctors, nurses, paramedics and other medical personnel — to deploy to hospitals during January and February, as needed.”

Additionally, Biden’s order creates “six emergency response teams — with more than 100 clinical personnel and paramedics — … deploying to six states now: Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Hampshire and Vermont. This is on top of the 300 federal medical personnel that we have deployed since we learned about omicron.”

The administration is also directing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) “to activate additional staffing and capacity for the National Response Coordination Center (NRCC) and FEMA regions” to add hospital beds.

Amid the “Great Resignation” — droves of people leaving the workforce during the pandemic — more nurses and hospital support staff seem to be buckling under the weight of two years of on-again, off-again COVID-19 disasters and disruptions.

“Some 29% of nurses said their desire to leave the field is significantly higher than before the pandemic, according to the survey that includes 570 responses from nurses,” industry news site Health Care Dive reported.

The report also stated that “nearly 37% of nurses said they were burned out, stressed or overworked, spurring an increasing number to say they’re dissatisfied with their careers and considering leaving their job.”

Early reports say omicron is more infectious but less severe than preceding variants, which some see as the virus moving from pandemic to endemic and into a more manageable state.

However, cutbacks in elective procedures and ongoing staffing problems at hospitals may lead to a mass flare-up of chronic medical conditions that are now being ignored or undertreated.

“Experts in the spring of 2020 warned that COVID-19 might be accompanied by a second, ‘hidden’ pandemic due to disruptions in chronic disease management,” according to a statement from the National Academy of Medicine (NAM). “Over 60% of Americans have at least one chronic disease, with illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and cancer accounting for most of the country’s morbidity and mortality burden.”

See also: COVID Surge Could Reduce 2022 Demand for Elective Medical Procedures