As Healthcare Debate Simmers, Healthcare Shortages Still Abundant

Over the past few weeks, headlines regarding the legislative efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Effort have been simmered, though some experts indicated that there may still be an opportunity for Senate Republicans to revive the debate sometime later on.

“When the cameras so dramatically showed Senator John McCain (R-AZ) voting “no,” he was actually just providing the deciding vote against the so-called ‘skinny’ repeal amendment offered by McConnell,” Forbes contributor Stan Collender explains. “When that failed, McConnell stopped the overall debate on the underlying bill. This means the Senate can resume the debate in the future.”  

But while debate simmers on over health care coverage and the Affordable Care Act, there is still an issue that has been unaddressed by governing bodies and those in the medical field: the  drastic shortage of hospital staff — especially those in the nursing field.

For years, reports of a nursing shortage have made headlines. The U.S. has been dealing with a hospital staff deficit of varying degrees for decades, but today the problem has been exacerbated due to an aging population, the rise of chronic disease, an aging nursing and hospital workforce, and a shortage of available of nursing faculty in colleges. These factors combined have the potential to become a crisis with implications for those in search of medical care, as well as the providers that will have to serve them.

While the lack of available hospital staff overall is astounding, the nursing shortage is particularly troubling, as America’s 3 million nurses make up the largest segment of the healthcare workforce.

Despite being one of the fastest-growing occupations in the country, nurses are in short supply. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics projections,  by 2022 there will be more than 1 million jobs for RNs, yet by 2025 the nursing shortage will be twice the size of any nurse shortage since the introduction of Medicare and Medicaid in the mid-1960s.

As reported in a previous article, part of the reason for the nursing shortage throughout history is due to an aging elderly population in the U.S. Reports from the United Health Foundation indicate that 1 in 8 Americans are over the age of 65. By 2050, that number is projected to increase drastically. 80 percent of seniors today live with at least one chronic health condition, and those who live in poverty are far more likely to live with drastic consequences of chronic conditions.

“People with chronic diseases clearly use more health-care services, and people who are older have more chronic disease,” Julie Sochalski, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing tells the Atlantic. “The aging population and chronic disease are creating the perfect storm driving demand for nurses.”

Rebecca Grant, author of the aforementioned piece that debuted in the Atlantic also notes that demand is only part of the problem in moving forward.

“Like the patients they serve, the country’s nurses are also aging,” Grant writes. “Around a million registered nurses (RNs) are currently older than 50, meaning one-third of the current nursing workforce will reach retirement age in the next 10 to 15 years. Nearly 700,000 nurses are projected to retire or leave the labor force by 2024.”

Filling the vacancies of retiring nurses isn’t exactly an easy proposition either, in fact, the nursing profession is reaching a bottleneck, where even qualified applicants are not even considered to be a part of the nursing profession in general. This is partially due to the fact that there aren’t enough nurse educators available to teach students.

“There is a huge demand for nurses with a doctorate degree, not in the least because there is such a shortage of nurse educators,” write the experts at HealthGrad. “If the stock of nurse educators is not replenished, there will be no way to educate tomorrow’s nursing workforce either.”

According to an American Association of Colleges of Nursing report, “U.S. nursing schools turned away 79,659 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2012 due to insufficient number of faculty, clinical sites, classroom space, clinical preceptors, and budget constraints.” Meaning that even amongst nursing faculty, aging is a factor: As Grant notes, many nursing faculty members are approaching retirement age, but without them, nursing schools can’t expand their numbers.

While healthcare has taken a national stage in recent months, there are still a number of shortages that must be overcome in order for the healthcare industry to thrive and move forward. Addressing the nursing shortage is of utmost importance moving forward for the healthcare industry.

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