Healthcare workers are the second most likely profession to burn out, right up there with lawyers and restaurant workers. This is especially true in rural hospital settings where shortages are common. Shortages cause more burnout, causing employees to look for work elsewhere, creating even more shortages.
And in November, again healthcare took a giant hit, with quits increasing in several industries. The largest of these came in hotel and food services (+159,000) followed by healthcare and social assistance (+52,000) with transportation, warehousing, and utilities (+33,000) in a not too distant third according to the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) report.
What does this mean to rural hospitals, and what can be done about it?
What happens when you take a job that is often overlooked and under appreciated, and then add a global pandemic with significant health risks? You get a mass exit of workers looking for a change in profession.
Nursing and other healthcare positions come with a lot of transferrable skills. With an employee-hungry market out there, dozens of industries are looking for those skills. And with the Zoom town boom, those employees in small towns looking for remote work are already set up for potential success.
And you can’t blame them. Nurses who witnessed death on an epic scale during the height of the pandemic have even been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. That’s not to mention friends and family who denied the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic, and communities who refused to take the steps necessary to flatten the curve.
What’s the real cost of staffing shortages? Well, when faced with an overwhelming amount of work and not enough people to do it, hospitals commonly resort to a few costly strategies:
These are just a few examples, and for someone in a rural area, going to another hospital or doctor may mean long drives, hotel stays, and more. And if the hospitals in a nearby larger town or city are overwhelmed? Patients are left with nowhere to turn.
Clearly, there is a problem. The question is, what can be done about it? There are no easy answers, but here are five potential solutions:
These potential answers are broad strokes for a large problem, and each one is much easier to write about than to implement. However, the staffing shortage did not happen overnight, nor will it be fixed quickly. The pandemic and the Great Resignation have just highlighted problems already present in the system.
In the short-term, it’s critical for rural hospitals and other healthcare facilities to determine what to do to maintain care levels without becoming financially insolvent the same time. They will need to do this with an eye toward tomorrow to avoid creating a situation where they are simply continuously sticking their fingers in the dike as more and more holes develop. Otherwise, the problem-solvers themselves may burn out, and the crisis will simply evolve and deepen.
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