- Mississippi needs 3,000 registered nurses
- Nurses leaving profession for better pay, mental health reasons
There are almost 3,000 registered nurse vacancies in Mississippi pushing the state’s hospitals to the brink of failure.
Some hospitals have had even greater losses since that number was released, as much as 40% amid a pandemic that refuses to relent, according to Kim Hoover, chief operating officer of Mississippi Hospital Association. It’s Center for Quality and Workforce gathered the data.
“Hospitals will continue to close beds until they close doors,” she said. “We will be dealing with it for years to come. Our state could however, raise hospital staffing to top priority and bring nursing leaders to the table when discussing potential solutions.”
Chief nursing officers across Mississippi report nurses are submitting their resignations “on a daily basis,” Hoover said.
The reasons behind the nursing exodus are varied. Some are leaving for high-paying travel nursing positions with price tags Mississippi cannot match; others because they’re mentally and physically exhausted.
Two weeks ago there were 400 registered nurse vacancies and 21 resignations sitting on a chief nursing officer’s desk at a Mississippi hospital, Hoover said. She did not name the hospital.
On Jan. 11, health care leaders at a University of Mississippi Medical Center—the state’s largest hospital—reported it had 360 nursing vacancies. The lack of nurses has forced the hospital to lower capacity by 55 beds because the beds cannot be staffed.
UMMC left reeling from omicron:Staffing shortages, omicron’s infectiousness are leaving Mississippi hospitals in a bind
In addition to losing nurses, some Mississippi hospitals are experiencing high call-in rates, up to 30% by those nurses still working, in part due to the coronavirus.
Before omicron spiked around Christmas, about 50 of UMMC’s 1,900 nurses would be out on any given day because of COVID-19 exposure, according to UMMC leaders. At one point, it was 175 in a single day. Now, the average is closer to 90.
The surge in nursing vacancies comes as the delta variant’s decimation has receded and been replaced by the highly infectious omicron variant.
“I am amazed with the number of people across the state that assume the COVID pandemic is over,” Tim Moore, Mississippi Hospital Association president, said. “Make no mistake, our hospitals are facing the greatest challenges they have yet seen.”
While omicron is said to cause less severe illness compared to delta, it is highly transmissible and Mississippi hospitals are, again, fielding high levels of COVID-19 patients.This time with even fewer staff.
Critical patients being treated in ER due to lack of beds
The state’s nursing shortage has forced unusual practices necessary to provide life-saving treatment.
A number of Mississippi hospitals are treating in the emergency departments patients who should be in the intensive care unit because they do not have enough nurses to open beds. General medical surgical floors have shifted to taking high-acuity patients.
Leaders like Hoover and Dr. Alan Jones, UMMC’s associate vice chancellor for clinical affairs, said there is no quick-fix recovery for the nursing shortage. Health care centers were facing nursing shortages even before the pandemic.
‘Draining and depressing’:Miss. nurses share the impact of working in a pandemic
“Even if we get out of a pandemic, into an endemic phase, we’re looking at two to three years of recovery in the workforce to get us back where we were,” Jones said.
Moore compared the health care’s system recovery to a coastline repairing after a hurricane.
“The damage to our healthcare system may take decades to repair,” Moore said. “Facilities that have for many years served foundational roles in our communities are in peril. Our healthcare heroes are still there caring for our families, friends, and neighbors regardless of praise or recognitions. We can not forget the sacrifices these caregivers have made each and every day for the last two years.”
But rewards for the sacrifices have waned.
As Jones sees it, the state will not be getting the influx of federal health care workers it was granted in the fall during the worst weeks of the delta variant surge at the behest of Gov. Tate Reeves. The health care workers served as a stop-gap for the state’s overburdened health care system. They left after their contracts expired at the end of October.
Reeves’ office did not respond to a request for comment inquiring about state solutions to the nursing shortage.
In the governor’s State of the State address Tuesday he did not mention health care workers’ tireless efforts when he talked about continuing to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
A recent $3 million US Department of Health and Human Services grant awarded to UMMC pledges to retain health care workers by addressing mental health needs and working to alleviate pandemic-related stress. The grant, however, does not have a mechanism in place aimed at filling nursing vacancies.
The stress existed prior to COVID-19, said Dr. Joshua Mann, chair of UMMC’s Department of Preventive Medicine and the grant’s principal investigator, in a news release.
“It’s obvious that the stress of the past two years has made it worse,” Mann said. “We have health care staff who are mentally exhausted, and they’ve accumulated stress from the pandemic.
Mississippi’s nursing shortage is not a quick or easy fix.
Back in September, the Clarion Ledger reported registered nurse vacancy rates at Mississippi hospitals increased from 5.9% in 2017 to 12.3% in 2020. At the time, Hoover said the most recent data showed there were over 1,500 vacant RN positions in hospitals.
Nurses were already tired to the bone. Hospitals were bursting with patients. And state health leaders were saying Mississippi’s health care system was on the brink of failure.
Now, with nearly double the number of nursing vacancies and no sign of the hemorrhage slowing, Hoover made a clear statement: “This cannot go on.”
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