Causes and factors worsening staffing shortages across the continuum of care 

Healthcare staffing shortages are a significant and undeniable issue affecting patients and workers, especially in long-term care. Fewer women having children and longer life expectancies have created a circumstance in which more of our population is growing older than is having children. It is projected that in 2034, for the first time in American history, the number of individuals aged 65 and older will outnumber those aged 18 and younger. In the future, older adults will require higher quality and competent care than the healthcare industry currently can provide.  

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) recent publication, ‘Beyond Applause? Improving Working Conditions in Long-Term Care,’ some additional factors that are contributing to staffing levels in that sector are lack of recognition for work, low pay, and pay disparity between men and women, with women making up 87% of workers in long-term care but earning 7.6% less per hour. 

Additionally, care workers’ exposure to physical and mental health risks, leading to burnout, has grown exponentially in the last few years. Burnout is defined as exhaustion. This exhaustion can be physical, emotional, or mental. As the healthcare team faces a larger older adult population and fewer nursing faculty, burnout is common and was further exacerbated by COVID-19. Exhaustion in the workplace has led to individuals stepping away from their professions.  

The real impact of staffing shortages: Quality of care and resident safety 

As staffing shortages are rising, patient safety and quality of care are crucial. According to Dr. Jasmine Travers, a gerontological nurse practitioner and assistant professor of nursing at New York University’s Rory Meyers College of Nursing, some issues increased by low staffing are emergency hospital visits, pressure ulcers, urinary tract infections, falls, and lack of basic needs taken care of through traditional means like call lights.  

A recent discussion between St. Louis on Air’s Elaine Cha and three guests from St. Louis discussed the use of staffing agencies to fill open positions to the detriment of long-term care residents and their quality of care. This lack of quality is specifically prevalent when it comes to staff knowing the residents on a deeper level and understanding more about their care than what is listed on their care plan. Listen to the full interview:

Quality of care helps individuals reach desired health outcomes. It is practical, safe, and people-centered. Health services should be timely, equitable (equal), integrated, and efficient to achieve high-quality care.  

By: Emily Ruck, UMSL Nursing ‘23, and Shelby Collier, VOYCE Event Coordinator 

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