The Nursing Shortage | A look at new nurses and the impact of travel nurses

Looking at a nursing shortage in the Tri-State
Looking at a nursing shortage in the Tri-State
Published: Dec. 14, 2021 at 7:09 PM EST
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HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - The nursing shortage is hitting all across the country and here at home. While St. Mary’s Medical Center is seeing an increasing number of students, pandemic burnout and the lure of big dollars in travel nursing are having a big impact.

Stephenie Griffith is a new nursing graduate at St. Mary’s. She says she is ready to start caring for patients, undeterred by what she saw training in the pandemic.

“I can’t say I was terrified. It drew me more to giving them quality care, " Griffith said.

But while Griffith is ready to get started, many nurses and instructors will tell you they believe stress and burnout are part of what’s fueling the nationwide nurse shortage.

Dr. Kim Dimsy-Reed is the director of Nursing at Northern Kentucky University.

“Right now, with the pandemic, many nurses are being faced with an incredible amount of trauma due to the number of deaths that they are seeing with COVID on a regular basis and just with incredible sick people,” Dimsy-Reed said.

Younger nurses are being trained to take their place, but there just are not enough to fill vacancies.

West Virginia Hospital Association President and CEO Jim Kaufman said, “Nursing is getting a lot of attention because there is more than 180 thousand vacant nursing positions nationwide. Hospitals are trying to be creative. Ho do we use the health care professionals we have to their fullest capabilities?”

West Virginia is asking some retired nurses to come back to work to fill spots. Kentucky just declared a state of emergency last week over the nursing shortage, and is now allowing nursing schools to admit more nursing students. Both states are offering scholarships and loan forgiveness if students stay in work in the states. In Ohio, some hospitals are offering bonuses.

Dr. Joey Trader, vice president for the Schools of Nursing and Health Professions at St. Mary’s Medical Center, said, “I feel the pressure to have many nurses graduate and fill the needs in this area. I am hopeful because the number of graduates, at least in this program, have been going up. The key is to retain them in this area.“

The number of graduating nursing students at SMMC School of Nursing is on the rise. In 2019, the school had 112 graduates. The year 2020 saw a dip to 102 student during the pandemic shut down. In 2021, numbers came back up at 114. Next year, 150 are expected to graduate.

Trader says of the 60 nurses who graduated just this weekend, a majority of them will be staying in this area.

But not all are staying put. There is a big dollar big draw to travel nursing. The website Zip Recruiter lists West Virginia in the top four in the country for yearly wages for travel nurses offering $102,000 a year, more than $49 an hour. While the same website lists West Virginia local or non-travel nurse pay at $62,000 a year, or $31 an hour.

“You are seeing those hourly rates for temporary nursing skyrocket,” says Jim Kaufman., West Virginia Hospital Association President and CEO. “We’re competing with 49 other states for the limited number of health care professionals that are out there.”

Gage Rhoades has been a traveling nurse for a year, working for Maxim Travel Agency. He’s commuting an hour from Chesapeake, Ohio, to Thomas Memorial in Charleston, West Virginia.

“The draw for me is that I get to help with the nurse shortage, increased pay and I get to improve my clinical skills by working in the float pool,” Rhoades said. He says he’s using the extra income to pay tuition for nurse practitioner school. He’s going to school while he’s working as a traveling nurse.

Registered Nurse Jennie Kahn, the chief nursing officer for Thomas Health, says contract or travel nurses are used throughout their entire medical system. Kahn says travel nurses are a short-term solution, and a costly one.

“At this point, we have no choice. I think throughout the state and probably throughout the nation most facilities have lost a large number of their full and their part-time nurses because of the lure, because of the increased rate of travel pay during the pandemic. Therefore we’ve had no choice but to back fill with contract labor,” she said.

Kahn says state leaders have met for months to try to come up with a solution, from offering better benefits to changing to patient models that require less dependency on travel nursing.

“Right now, we’re in a grim situation and we will just have to maintain until we can find a solution,” Kahn said.

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