7 ways hospitals, states can cope with nursing shortage during coronavirus patient surge

As hospitals face an influx of COVID-19 patients, hospitals are ramping up their bed capacity, but they may not have enough nurses to staff them, a professor from University of California, San Francisco wrote in a Health Affairs blog.

Joanne Spetz, PhD, a professor at the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies and associate director for research at the Healthforce Center at University of California, San Francisco wrote a blog discussing the shortage of nurses to care for the increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients and suggested tips for closing the gap.

Dr. Spetz analyzed the National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses, 2018, and found that of the 4 million registered nurses in the U.S., 3.3 million are employed in nursing roles. About 60 percent of those employed in nursing, 60 percent work in hospitals and about 15 percent of work in critical care units. Thus, increasing the number of critical care beds, needed for severe COVID-19 cases, would outstrip the number of nurses trained to provide that care.

The author suggests the following ways to increase and most effectively use the nursing workforce during the pandemic:

1. Offer financial incentives, such as higher salaries or student loan repayment programs, that will encourage nurses to serve in areas of the country hardest hit during the pandemic.

2. Speed processing of license applications for nurses from other states and authorize quick license reactivation.

3. Expand scope-of-practice and oversight rules. For example, loosen regulations that require physicians to oversee nurse practitioners.

4. Nursing students, both those who are scheduled to graduate soon and those who are in earlier stages of their education, can help support care at hospitals during the pandemic.

5. Offer new child care options to nurses.

6. Support the personal needs of nurses, such as lodging so they can avoid exposing their families to the virus. Take care of their emotional and mental health needs by offering support services.

7. Make sure nurses have adequate access to personal protective equipment.


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