The Economics of America's Nurse Shortage
N. p. r. adam. Johnston is an emergency room nurse. You just got up an overnight shift. Yeah adam has been doing the job for seven years he works in fargo north dakota and what are north dakota's like we. We have a lot of. I think stoic rural population. We talk a lot. You know like if they're presenting complaint is my wife made me come into the er. There's probably something really wrong with them. They're probably actually pretty sick. Of course adams job changed totally nine months ago. The hospital got ready for a huge surge of cova cases and adam was put in charge of the inpatient cove unit. He's they saw some cases and some very sick people but they never saw the huge surge. They had prepared for but he says starting in the fall they started to see more cases and more cases and more cases. We're seeing patient volumes. That are just beyond anything that we've ever seen before. North dakota has seen cova cases spike in the last couple of months. One in ten residents of the state has gotten sick. And north dakota has the highest kovic more talapity rate in the country. Adam says the hospitals are overrun Facilities are adding hallway beds To their er to be able to see more patients like their patients out in the hallways. Yeah in bed like embeds. Yeah and what is the staffing situation now. It's it's getting ross. It's getting rough. All across the country. hospitals are reporting staffing shortages. They're just enough nurses to meet demand right now. This is the indicator from planet. Money back smith today on the show the nursing shortage all over the country. Hospitals are desperate for healthcare workers. And there just aren't enough to go around and now some states like north dakota are resorting to drastic measures. This message comes from. Npr sponsor avalanche providing cloud based sales tax solutions for businesses of all sizes valera automatically integrates with more than seven hundred erp and ecommerce systems learn more at avalanche dot com slash indicator support for this npr. Podcast and the following message. Come from vox media. And its new podcast. Decoder with verge. Editor-in-chief neil patel. Decoder explores the future of business and tech with business leaders like salman. Khan david chang and mark cuban find decoder wherever you get your podcasts in the early days of the cova pandemic hospitals were scrambling for equipment masks gowns. Ventilators things like that now. The problem is people. Gb silvers is a professor of healthcare finance at case western reserve university. Now we've got p. Now staff is constraint. So i think going forward that's going to be the big issue across the country and you cannot predict. You can manufacturer more. Nurses just doesn't work that way. Gb has spoken with nurses all over the country and he says simply put they are exhausted. Months of double shifts p protocols changing information patients dying and the constant fear of infection. He says it is taking a huge toll. The she people leaving people are quitting their just quitting. Which is quitting. They're saying that's it. I mean how have a problem is this. I think it's it's huge. It's really big. Jab says as the supply of nurses is shrinking. Demand for nurses is skyrocketing so called traveling. Nurses are typically the reserve supply for disasters. They go wherever they're needed but right now they are needed. Everywhere and hospitals senior centers in nursing homes across the country are madly competing for nurses. There are reports of hospitals offering six thousand dollars a week to lure them in. Gb says that is creating a crisis situation especially for hospitals in rural communities and low income areas. They don't necessarily have the money to bring in reserves or to even keep the nurses they have at the same time. They're seeing a flood of very sick. Patients states like mississippi colorado and missouri are desperate in fact the hospital. Staffing situation in north dakota got so bad that the governor doug burgum announced the state would be taking a pretty drastic measure show. Today we took a step to help address. The staffing issue with an amended state health officer order that now is going to allow a symptomatic cova positive healthcare workers to work in cova units of license healthcare facilities in other words nurses and doctors who test positive for covid but aren't showing symptoms are being asked to keep working. Adam johnston the emergency room nurse. Fargo says he could not believe it when he heard this. It feels like nurses are being sacrificed. What was especially troubling to adamant his colleagues. Was that north. Dakota hadn't taken many other measures to contain the covid. Nineteen outbreak there was no mask mandate no ban on indoor dining or large gatherings wizard will wear where the prevention measures It it felt like this concept of thank you. Heroes was tossed by the wayside. We you know through the first several months we saw lots of lots of signs you know. Thank you healthcare heroes and and people on on the news an public and and there was a great strong outpouring of support. Oh yeah and then i saw. Oh so this is how we're going to combat covert. Were going to put our nurses at risk you know now. Now where where. Where is the the the recognition for being a hero in. That says this has made things even harder at work. Feels like there's no place to relax because even the staff break room is potentially full of very sick people. You cannot let your guard down. At all atom heads north dakota's emergency nurses association and he and other healthcare workers spoke out. After the governor's announcement and the governor has since issued a statewide mask mandate and has limited gatherings and indoor dining adams's. He truly appreciates that still. He says these days his job is just really hard. So what are your days at work. Like now It's exhausting You know. I'm i'm an er nurse. I like results I like to see patients get sutures and go home. I like to see us do. Cpr revive people I'm very results oriented and to go to work every day and just say you know. Well who's who's gonna die. Today is not what. I signed up for and adams says the risk physical and psychological burnout is always looming. He says he used to be able to leave his job at work. Whatever happened during a shift. He could always leave it at the door. It was the key to avoiding burnout as a nurse. Now says he just can't they're all these moments that haunt him as he keeps thinking about this one cova patient who was getting sicker and sicker. Adam knew he was dying so he called the emergency contact so we can at least have facetime moment with a family member or a friend before he passed. There was a phone number there listed for a friend. And so i called that friend and said you know hey Do you have contact info for for his family. And he's there there is nobody. It's it's just me. I live next door. And i i go over there now on that and check in on it and so that that for me was just sort of the the epitome of seeing somebody that just died alone from this And just like very alone like like no. No face timing None of that. It just sort of put into perspective. How really truly painful. It is to witness that happen. Yeah yeah so. That's that's one patient. That i can't forget about him a lot. This episode of the indicator was produced by jamila huxtable. Fact checked by sean saldana. The indicator is edited by paddy hirsch and is a production of npr.