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Pennsylvania Hospitals Grapple with Severe Nurse Shortage as Burnout Rates Soar

Hospitals are implementing various strategies to attract and retain talent.
Cover Image Source: A Nurse | Getty Images | Photo by Christopher Furlong
Cover Image Source: A Nurse | Getty Images | Photo by Christopher Furlong

Nurses across the United States are grappling with burnout and high levels of stress, exacerbating the ongoing healthcare worker shortage even after the COVID-19 pandemic ended. In Pennsylvania, hospitals are taking proactive measures to combat this crisis, but significant challenges remain. According to the Hospital and Health System Association of Pennsylvania (HAP), the state is on the brink of experiencing severe shortages in nursing staff and mental health providers, revealing vacancy rates ranging from 10% to 19% for various nursing positions statewide.

Pexels | Photo by Andrea Piacquadio
Image Source: Pexels | Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

One of the leading contributors to this shortage is high burnout within the nursing profession. Surveys conducted by AMN Healthcare shed light on the reasons behind this trend. Registered nurses cited burnout as a significant factor influencing their decision to leave their current roles, with over 80% reporting experiencing a great deal or a lot of stress at work.

Similarly, chief nursing officers and directors of nursing, expressed concerns about burnout, with 72% acknowledging its prevalence in their roles.

In response, hospitals are implementing various strategies to attract and retain talent. Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN), for instance, has rolled out competitive compensation packages, benefits, and financial support for continued education. Moreover, it has recently introduced childcare offerings for its employees and is investing in technology to streamline staffing processes.

The efforts of individual hospitals are part of a broader push within the healthcare industry to address workforce shortages. According to HAP's survey, nearly all hospitals are ramping up recruitment and retention efforts, including increasing base pay, offering flexible work schedules, and providing professional development opportunities.

Frontline Healthcare Workers As Pandemic Approaches Third Year | Getty Images | Photo by Lisa Maree William
Image Source: Frontline Healthcare Workers | Getty Images | Photo by Lisa Maree William

AMN's survey further highlights the importance of favorable nurse-to-patient ratios and effective onboarding processes in retaining nursing staff. Collaboration between educators, governments, and healthcare providers will be essential to developing a sustainable solution.

Major investments in educational programs and workforce development initiatives are needed to cultivate a robust healthcare workforce capable of meeting Pennsylvania's growing needs.

LVHN, for instance, is expanding its educational offerings through the Joseph F. McCloskey School of Nursing, with plans to introduce night and weekend classes in Schuylkill County. By expanding access to education and training opportunities, LVHN aims to build a local pipeline of qualified healthcare professionals to meet future demand.

Image Source: Photo by Cedric Fauntleroy | Pexels
Image Source: Photo by Cedric Fauntleroy | Pexels

Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified feelings of burnout and distress among healthcare workers in the United States, exacerbating existing challenges within the industry. A recent federal survey revealed that nearly half of healthcare workers reported feeling burned out in 2022, marking a 14-percentage increase since 2018.

Factors contributing to this phenomenon include rising incidents of harassment and diminishing trust in management. Additionally, about four in 10 healthcare workers expressed intentions to change jobs in 2022, signaling a potential crisis in workforce sustainability.

The strain on healthcare workers was further compounded by the politicization of COVID-19 measures, which led to hostility and abuse directed at frontline workers. Concerns about workforce sustainability existed before the pandemic, with an aging physician population and medical school vacancies contributing to projected shortages of physicians in the coming decade.