How Georgia is tackling its nursing shortage

The nationwide nursing shortage is not going away anytime soon. It should even get worse by 2030.

Data from the Bureau of Health Workforce ranks Georgia with the fifth-lowest statewide nursing ratios in the nation.

In a 2017 study, US Health Resources and Services predicted a long-term supply and demand problem for nurses. Then the pandemic hit and nurses started quitting in record numbers.

“It was truly the year of the nurse and they are champions and their contributions to health care were evident, but also they weren’t able to devote a lot of time to self-care,” said Dr Susan Dyess, director of Kennesaw State University’s Wellstar School of Nursing.

The administration of KSU is focused on creating more opportunities.

“We are currently in a five-year expansion program where we are doubling our enrollment for nursing students. We are in year three,” Dr. Dyess said.

The new 70,000 square foot Emory Nursing Learning Center is another example of the focus on education.

Health care culture expert Kathleen Bartholomew says hospitals still have to deal with compensation and burnout

“They are saturated with tasks. They do more than 600 tasks in a 12-hour shift. 12-hour shifts have not helped them at all, they are exhausting at work. They have no time shutdown, they don’t have time to process the information, even to eat meals,” Bartholomew said.

Bartholomew suggests changing nurses’ schedules to four 10-hour workdays with eight hours for clinical work and two hours for other duties.

“Education, follow-ups, contact with your patients, quality of patient improvement, going to shared governance meetings but no, it’s like Lucile Ball at the chocolate factory but instead of chocolate, it’s the patients, so you can’t stop the treadmill,” Barthélemy said.

Nursing travel opportunities have proven to be very lucrative during the pandemic, but experts say it has also driven out permanent full-time employees.

“It’s natural to be resentful when you’ve just directed someone to your floor knowing they’re earning double the salary,” Bartholomew said. “The other thing is I live in a small rural town where the nurses have gone and we don’t have anyone in the ER anymore, so now the hospital has to hire all the travelers.”

“I think that’s a puzzle and I think leaders across the country are looking at this. What are the incentives that keep nurses at the bedside,” Dyess said.

Dyess says magnet-designated hospitals, which are recognition for facilities with excellent nursing staff, are also attractive to staff.

“Having healthy practice environments, having appropriate communication with shared governance where frontline nurses feel like they are part of decision-making processes,” Dyess said. “These are all very good attractors in the world of magnets.”

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