Survey explains reasons behind Kentucky nurse shortage

Recent COVID-19 surges are exposing shortages in our hospitals.
Recent COVID-19 surges are exposing shortages in our hospitals.(WKYT)
Published: Oct. 22, 2021 at 4:44 PM CDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Kentucky healthcare systems have been plagued by a nursing shortage, and a new survey conducted by the Kentucky Nurses Association revealed there are several driving factors including low pay, lack of staff, and exhaustion.

On Friday, the Kentucky Nurses Association and the Kentucky Organization of Nurse Leaders held a virtual press conference to discuss the survey’s results, which included responses from more than 850 nurses from around the state.

The survey sited the top ranked reasons for the nurse shortage in Kentucky as lack of sufficient nursing staff, not enough pay, physical exhaustion, fear of transmitting COVID-19 to family and friends, lack of support staff, and lack of support from other nurses and management.

“I have been a nurse for over 40 years, and I have never experienced what is happening to us right now during this pandemic of COVID-19,” Delanor Manson, CEO of the Kentucky Nurses Association said.

Nurses are also reporting an increase of violence and physical assaults from patients and their families.

“All because of the pandemic and one’s beliefs that it’s not real,” Kristin Pickerell of the Kentucky Organization of Nurse Leaders said.

Nurses involved in the discussion said Kentucky nurses are leaving the bedside to travel, where they are contracted to work temporarily in healthcare systems around the country. According to Pickerell, some travel nurses are making more than $200 an hour, often times to work as a traveler in the same hospital they left.

“We’re having to hire travel nurses to replace nurses who are leaving to go travel, so it’s a vicious cycle for leadership to figure out how do we get out of this,” Pickerell said.

Because healthcare systems are having to pay their former employees more as travelers, the cost falls on the patients, who are now paying more for cost of care.

In addition, states with some of the worst nurse shortages, like New York, California and Texas, are offering to pay Kentucky nurses much more, while giving them food stipends and covering their room and board.

“It makes it impossible for them to say, ‘No, I’m going to stay here in Kentucky rather than travel to the Midwest or the West Coast,’” Tim Veno, president of LeadingAge said. “The downside to that unfortunately is that healthcare in Kentucky will suffer. The consumer is going to lose out because the healthcare they’ve come to know and love or come to expect is not going to be there.”

One million Baby Boomers are set to retire within the next two decades, and there aren’t enough new nurses to replace them, according to nurse leaders.

Last year in Kentucky, 500 nursing school seats sat empty because there is also a nurse faculty shortage; there weren’t enough nursing educators to teach students.

KNA suggested several solutions to the problem; it asked the state to allocate $100 million to spend on recruitment and retention efforts. The group hopes to spend the money on bonuses for local nurses, loan forgiveness for nurses in underserved areas, getting retired nurses to return to work, and marketing to make nursing appealing again.

To read the full survey and solutions, click here.

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