Although the problem of nursing shortages in hospitals has been around for quite some time, the pandemic has brought this challenge to an entirely new level. As COVID infections have increased, specifically amongst the younger and unvaccinated population, more and more nurses feel emotional and physical exhaustion due to patient overload.
Many are considering retiring early or shifting to a career less demanding or are opting out of healthcare altogether. The situation is worse in rural areas where nurses face an intense workload with nurses already struggling due to their aging workforce and the older patient population with more chronic illnesses. COVID has now pushed the shortage into more serious territory. To date, more than 1200 nurses have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. alone. The currently life-threatening situation led to a September 2021 request by the American Nurses Association (ANA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to declare the current nursing shortage a national crisis.
The ANA request centered around these demands of the HHS:
- Convene stakeholders to identify short- and long-term solutions to staffing challenges.
- Work with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on methodologies and approaches to promote payment equity for nurses and remove unnecessary regulatory barriers to APRN practice.
- Educate the nation on the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine and provide resources for widespread administration of the vaccine and boosters.
- Sustain a nursing workforce that meets current and future staffing demands including the prioritization of nurses’ mental health needs.
- Provide additional resources including recruitment and retention incentives that will attract and retain more nurses to meet the rigorous demands of patient care.
Telehealth Nursing As A Solution to The Nursing Shortage
Fortunately, telehealth is offered promise for both the pandemic and the nursing shortage. More attention has been shifted toward strategies to improve the number of future nurses and stabilize the profession for those already working. Nursing schools are receiving federal financial assistance to hire more instructors for the future nursing workforce, and HHS is being encouraged to promote payment equity and retention incentives amongst nurses in a variety of healthcare settings. Telehealth nurses are very likely to be part of a solution to the nationwide nursing shortage. By streamlining the utilization of nurses in the hospital setting, telehealth enables nurses to educate and support their patients with more time spent and establish rapport and trust. In hospitals with electronic intensive care units, telehealth nurses can monitor so many more patients than they’d be able to as a bedside nurse. The American Telemedicine Association has reported that the virtual platform could potentially provide around 50% of healthcare services within the next five years.
Nurse and nurse practice training programs from across the country have obtained funding from the Cares Act to buy needed equipment and offer training to their nurses. For example, a number of universities are currently working with TBHI Telehealth.org to train and certify their nurses. Nationwide, at least 35 states and the District of Columbia have mandated that health plans cover telehealth services. Telehealth nurses are leading the virtual care delivery, specifically for chronic disease and patient medication management. See TBHI’s previous article Telehealth Services Can Reduce Burden on Emergency Departments, Mental Health Services for more information.