As staff shortages in hospitals continue, health professionals weigh in

Local healthcare workers weigh in on why hospitals are losing their staff at record rates

Healthcare workers across the country have been suffering from intense burnout and exhaustion since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Hospitals continue to flood with patients, and there are few incentives for employees to keep working. Pay increases are rare, help is scarce, and finding a different career is seeming more appealing than continuing to work in medicine.

Some enter early retirement and others leave their positions without notice, but many are still working and struggling to keep their heads above water. Cheryl Katavich, 47, has been a Physician Assistant for the better part of ten years.

“There were tons of nurses that left—that quit, that never came back after the pandemic. Doctors that left took early retirement and didn’t come back to work,” Cheryl said. “I don’t have doctors. I don’t have administrators to give us any guidance. And every day during the pandemic it was like you’d have a set of rules in the morning and then in the afternoon, the rules change … It’s exhausting.”

To counteract the tremendous loss of employees each day, hospitals continue to recruit frantically, desperately trying to garner new employees while clinging to those still working. But healthcare workers are being affected by the staffing crisis in more ways than one.

Tanita Dawson, 31, is a nurse in the same rural county hospital system as Katavich. Dawson primarily works as an agency nurse, floating between nursing homes and filling spaces left by the labor shortage.

“Nobody wants to do it anymore,” Tanita said, reflecting on the burden nurses carry. “Sometimes there’s kind words. But, from the people who really matter in administration, you don’t hear a thank you; you don’t hear how you’re doing. [If] you’re doing okay, you’re doing terrible … Really, they’ll just throw you anywhere they need a body, with no training. So, it’s very discouraging. You feel incompetent with your job.”

Nurses protesting working conditions in California. Courtesy of Cal Matters

Nurses have been hit hard by staffing problems. Nurses are being asked to do double, and sometimes triple, the workload for the same pay and often with no help or support. They are being asked to care for sick patients and possibly bring the sickness home to their families. And yet, the problems with staffing are not new. Rural hospitals have always had trouble keeping their employees, with the pandemic only exacerbating the issues that already existed.

“I think things are gonna change,” Cheryl said. “We’re going to have less doctors available for the amount of people that we need to care for … I think there’s going to be a lot of hospitals that close. I don’t know if they’re going to be able to rebound after all of this. You’re not going to have access to care … you’re going to have a lot more sick people.”

It is important to take care of our healthcare workers, as they take care of us. A future with limited doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers is unfeasible. Hospitals should either increase the pay of their workers during this difficult time, or they need to hire more workers. It is simply unfair that people who work to save people’s lives are not paid accordingly for an increased workload.