Impact of Nursing Shortage Is Felt Throughout Facilities

Hospitals are having an increasingly hard time recruiting and keeping workers for a variety of positions, but none more important to patients than the nurses who are the front-line caregivers.

The American Hospital Assn. recently attached numbers to the problem with a survey of 700 rural and urban hospitals.

It found a shortfall of about 126,000 registered nurses, which accounted for three-quarters of the 168,000 vacancies in six major hospital jobs. The others affected pharmacists, X-ray technologists, billing specialists, lab technologists and housekeeping-maintenance workers.

The impact of these job shortages, due in part to competition from higher-paying jobs in retail businesses like chain drugstores and mass market merchandisers, could be felt in several ways. Of the hospitals surveyed, 41% reported emergency department overcrowding, 26% reported diverting ambulances to other hospitals, 22% reported increased waiting times for surgery, and 15% canceled surgeries.

Dick Davidson, president of the nonprofit association of 5,000 hospitals, health care systems, networks and other providers, said some of the solutions to the problem include expanded education and training programs and additional funds from Congress. He also called for reduced paperwork that keeps nurses stuck in offices and away from direct patient care.

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