An ever-worsening nursing shortage started years before the pandemic

Local News

URBANA, Ill. (WCIA)– Hospitals are desperate to bring in more nurses. This is a nationwide trend.

The American Nurses Association estimated there will be more nursing jobs available than any other profession by 2022, possibly more than 100,000 a year in the U.S.

Hospitals in Central Illinois are seeing that same trend.

According to Deb McCarter, the Chief Nursing Officer at OSF Heart of Mary Medical Center, the hospital lost more than 40 nurses in the last three years. While the pandemic had some impact, she said it really just worsened an existing problem.

McCarter, who has held a long career in nursing, said the loss in nurses has been on her radar well before the pandemic. OSF saw a loss of about 20 nurses a year since 2019, she added.

“The pandemic just really highlighted where we were at with that,” she confirmed.

Contrary to what you might guess, McCarter even said that 2019 saw the biggest drop in staffing compared to the pandemic years, 2020 and so far in 2021.

High demand for nurses and a low supply makes this a continuous problem, McCarter told us.

Meanwhile, Central Illinois colleges have plenty of interest in nursing programs.

“I have thought about this a lot because this is not new, this nursing shortage,” shared Parkland College’s Assistant Dean of Nursing, Diane Cousert.

Cousert said she’s surprised the Champaign college hasn’t seen any drop off in enrollment in its two-year program.

Danville Area Community College is in the same situation, according to Director of Nursing Susan Koss. She told WCIA the school had 80 applications for 32 openings this year.

Even so, there aren’t enough graduates to keep up with the need in local hospitals.

“There are a lot of other types of nursing jobs out there,” Cousert explained.

“A lot of nurses go back to school and become nurse practitioners,” McCarter added. “So we see a lot of moving around, more so than we used to in earlier years.”

To keep a full staff, OSF has been bringing in more and more traveling nurses, another trend McCarter said is popular among young RNs.

When McCarter came to the Urbana hospital about eight months ago, there were three or four traveling nurses. Now, that number is 13-14. McCarter confirmed hiring transient nurses is more expensive overall, but she wasn’t able to say by how much.

Although staffing shortages have been an issue for years, it’s undeniable that COVID-19 has caused some burnout.

“I think it’s been a very difficult couple of years, and you know, we’re seeing a resurge. So, you know, we recognize that and anything we can do to support them is important,” McCarter responded about the mental health of her staff.

“But I think you may see people leave the profession. They might feel a little tired and burnt out.”

Cousert has been a nurse for many years as well. She said she’s noticed patients in hospitals are much sicker than she remembered early in her career, adding, it’s likely because people are opting to be cared for at home. As a result, nurses and others in a hospital setting aren’t seeing patients until it’s the last resort, and that can take a toll on healthcare professionals.

WCIA 3 requested staffing numbers from Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana as well, but they declined to comment.

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