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More and more hospitals are having trouble filling nurse vacancies, while nurses are pushing for more support and better pay.
The nursing shortage is expected to increase by the year 2030. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics foresees 194,500 registered nurse job openings every year until 2029.
In the U.S. health care system, doctors produce revenue by ordering services, like a surgery or an X-ray, which are billed. Nurses don't bill patients.
"The way our society pays for nurses at hospitals, it's, they're viewed more as a cost because they can't bill for their services the way physicians can. So, if you look at a hospital's spreadsheet, their biggest cost is nursing," said Sarah Szanton, dean at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. "Nurses are one of the costs, along with the Jell-O and the towels and everything else in that kind of room charge, which doesn't make sense because they add value."
Even though numerous studies show having more nurses on staff leads to better outcomes for patients, they are often furloughed or let go when hospitals need to cut costs. That's why, among other reasons, the U.S. is facing an estimated nursing shortage in the coming years.
"COVID has exacerbated the nursing shortage, but it was around before COVID," Szanton added.
Pre-COVID, roughly 1 in 10 hospitals reported high vacancy rates among nurses. Last year, it was 3 in 5.
Szanton said nurses want more support and more money.
Szanton recently spoke in front of Congress. She says the government can make the biggest difference just by funding hospitals, scholarships and instructors,
"About 90,000 applications are rejected across the country that are well-qualified to be nurses that nursing schools can't take in because of lack of nursing faculty," she said.
Rebecca Love is the chief clinical officer at IntelyCare, which is among a wave of companies looking to make life more flexible for nurses. The company uses an Uber-like app for shifts.
"We're investing in billions of technologies to help surgeons do better surgery, but we've never really looked at investing in technology that works better for the nurse," Love said.
And this is the time to figure it out. People are living longer. The over-65 population will balloon in the decade to come.
"Health care cannot exist without nurses. Hospitals cannot stay open without nurses. And we know that because, if they could, they would just send patients to hotels," Love said.
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