Ballad staff shortage: a long-term problem made immediate by COVID-19 | Local News
Even as the wave of COVID-19 cases in the region due to the delta variant of the virus begins to ease, Ballad Health facilities are still grappling with staff shortages.
This is an issue that Ballad struggled with even before the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Ballad Health, the United States faced a looming shortage of nurses, with 1.2 million new registered nurses expected in the country by 2030.
This shortage was already starting to become evident before the COVID-19 pandemic brought the problem to light.
Ballad says the shortage before the pandemic was caused by the fact that much of the American population is over 65 due to aging baby boomers, people born between 1946 and 1964.
The growing number of older people needs more health services. Older people are also living longer as health care improves and becomes more accessible, requiring medical services for longer periods in their longer lives.
The large population of aging baby boomers has also led a significant portion of the nursing workforce to reach or near retirement age, according to Ballad. As these older nurses retire, hospital systems are struggling to replace them.
Ballad also says career options for nurses have changed over the years. In the past, working in hospital inpatient units was the only primary career path for RNs. This is no longer the case. Nurses can now look for opportunities in doctor’s offices, private companies, schools and other organizations. These jobs tend to be less stressful than hospital environments, and they often don’t require night, weekend, or vacation hours. Ballad says it makes these jobs more attractive to nurses with families.
With hospitals already facing these challenges, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the shortage and accelerated the need for more nurses.
Two years ago, before the pandemic, Ballad Health had around 350 vacant registered nursing positions.
A year ago, in the midst of the pandemic, there were around 475 registered nursing job postings in the system.
This month, for its current patient volume, Ballad Health has a deficit of around 600 RNs.
According to Ballad, the COVID-19 pandemic has led frontline clinicians to be constantly bombarded with waves of COVID-19 patients. Instability and stress have led many employees to burn out and quit their nursing jobs.
Ballad says that during the COVID-19 winter outbreak from December 2020 to February 2021, his nurses were understaffed but fairly stable. Most of the hospital needs were covered. However, as 2021 continued and the delta variant led to an increase in COVID-19-related hospitalizations from July, Ballad began to lose nurses who no longer wanted to work at the bedside. At one point during the delta surge, Ballad saw four or five nurse quits per week.
In trying to keep nurses on staff, Ballad paid out $ 11.4 million in pay incentives related to COVID-19. Ballad has also invested around $ 18.1 million in salary adjustments for its healthcare workers.
Ballad has also committed more than $ 100 million over 10 years to increase nurses’ salaries for frontline nursing positions.
“This investment was one of many steps we have taken to address the national nursing shortage, with the US federal government forecasting, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, a deficit of 800,000 nurses in 2020. This increase specific salary applied to a variety of nursing positions, including acute care registered nurses (RNs), licensed practical nurses (LPNs), certified practical nurses (CNA) whose primary responsibility is direct care inpatients, cleaning technicians, LPNs and long-term care CNAs, clinic LPNs and certified medical assistants, health technicians and telemetry technicians, ”Ballad said in a statement.
Ballad is always looking to do more to attract more nurses to its hospitals.
“We’ve also put a lot of effort into recruiting new team members for Ballad Health, hosting drive-through job fairs that allow candidates to find out about jobs, apply, be interviewed and receive job offers – all from their vehicle, ”Ballad’s said. said the statement.
As staff shortages persisted throughout the pandemic, Ballad was also forced to pay for expensive contract nurses, also known as ‘travel nurses’.
Ballad says that before the pandemic, the system had fewer than 75 temporary contract nurses filling gaps in its usual roster of 3,500 acute care nurses.
By August 2020, the number of contract nurses working in Ballad’s system had more than doubled to 150 contract nurses.
By August 2021, the number of contract nurses had reached 450.
According to Ballad, contract nurses typically work 13-week shifts and previously earned double or triple the amount of money regular nurses make.
Now the math has changed.
As hospitals across the country vie for contract nurses to fill their many vacancies, Ballad has found itself having to pay up to seven times more than it normally would for contract nurses.
“With nurses burning out, staying home to care for their families, or resigning to become contract nurses themselves, Ballad Health has no choice but to pay the extra wages,” said Ballad in a press release.
Ballad also needed help from the National Guard during the latest wave of COVID-19.
In August, 20 members of the National Guard arrived at Johnson City Medical Center to assist medical staff, and in September, nine more members of the Guard arrived to assist staff at Holston Valley Medical Center in Kingsport.
These members of the National Guard have held various roles, divided equally between administrative and primary care.
MANDATES AND STAFF Possible COVID-19 vaccine warrants through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have involved Ballad.
“While the vaccination warrants could solve some of the problems created by the COVID-19 outbreak, it could create more of a staff shortage problem,” Ballad said in a statement.
About 63% of Ballad employees are vaccinated, and Ballad executives say they continue to encourage their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
However, Ballad fears that a vaccination mandate could cost them staff among the 37% of their employees who are not vaccinated.
“We don’t want to make a serious problem worse by losing what could represent between 5 and 10% of our staff. It would supplant our ability to care for patients, ”Ballad said. Ballad based his estimate of employee losses on an analysis of other health systems and immunization health profiles in eastern Tennessee.
“Ballad Health’s concern about requiring COVID-19 vaccines for other team members is practical. We need to make sure that we have staff to take care of patients in our facilities. Our main concern is making sure we have the staff to take care of everyone who needs us, ”Ballad said. “Every corner of the country is different. We are in a rural area where, if we lose even a little bit of our staff because of the mandate, it puts us in an extremely precarious situation.
Ballad says rural hospitals face a more difficult challenge in staffing and recruiting new staff.
According to Ballad, a June report from the Federal Administration of Resources and Health Services (HRSA) found that rural areas represent 60% of areas facing a shortage of health professionals. Ballad also says that rural areas have a larger aging workforce and populations with lower wages and more intense workloads.
STAFFING EFFORTS CONTINUE
Ballad doesn’t know how long the nursing shortage will last, but is trying to develop the pipeline of available young nurses.
“We are very proud to work with our local higher education institutions to increase the number of clinical faculty available, as well as the availability of healthcare facilities for students to complete their clinical placements,” Ballad said.
Ballad Health currently offers full-time and part-time employment opportunities in each of its inpatient facilities, outpatient departments and physician groups.
There will be a drive-through hiring event at the Greeneville Community Hospital from noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday. Ballad will be looking specifically to fill nursing, nursing support and various technician roles, but applications will be accepted for all positions.
Job openings include Long Term Care Registered Nurse Practitioners, Respiratory Therapists, Registered Nurses, Medical Laboratory Technicians, Licensed Practical Nurses, Certified Practical Nurses, Phlebotomists, Patient Services Representatives, Physicians registered nurse practitioners, radiology technicians and engineering technicians
As Ballad Health continues to face staff shortages, its leaders want to make sure that residents of the area do not needlessly go to the emergency room. According to Ballad, seeking the appropriate level of care for preventative, low-severity health conditions or injuries, such as going to a primary care doctor or emergency care center, can help relieve pressure on the health care system. health.
Otherwise, say Ballad officials, residents of eastern Tennessee can do two things to take the strain off the hospital system: get the shot and be kind.
“One of the best things people can do is get vaccinated against COVID-19. The vaccine is very effective in preventing hospitalizations, which would relieve a lot of pressure on our hospitals and our team members, ”Ballad said in his statement. “Above all, remember to treat healthcare workers – and everyone around you – with grace and patience as we go through a time of unprecedented difficulty. “