Despite recent declines in coronavirus cases nationwide, many hospitals may still have workforce shortages over the next 30 days due to COVID-19 hospitalizations, according to estimates from George Washington University.
The university's Fitzhugh Mullan Institute for Health Workforce Equity recently launched its COVID-19 County Workforce Estimator, which predicts that between now and March 20, 7% of U.S. counties will experience "significant strains" on their hospital workforces. It attributes the strain to long-standing staffing problems with the added pressure of the pandemic.
It also predicts that 209 counties will need to implement crisis workforce strategies due to its analysis that ICU doctors in those counties will be forced to take care of 24 or more patients at a time. Hospitals in those locations will likely need to use non-ICU-trained staff to help care for patients, the analysis said.
Further, the tool suggests that 12 counties will need to use contingency workforce strategies that include adding more patients per team, float pools and overtime due to COVID-19 hospitalization rates of 25% or more.
While it estimates a portion of counties will face staffing strains over the next month, the estimator calculated that 2,189 counties will be able to maintain normal workforce strategies due to COVID-19 hospitalization rates of 25% or less.
An additional 736 counties either did not have a hospital or didn't have enough data to assess potential COVID-19 workforce strains.
The estimator tool was built in collaboration with Premier, a healthcare improvement company, the National Association of County and City Health Officials, and IQVIA, a healthcare data and analytics organization.
WHY THIS MATTERS
Healthcare staffing shortages have been a worry for some time now due to the nation's increasingly aging population, but COVID-19 has only added to the concern.
Even before the pandemic, studies predicted physician staffing shortages by upwards of 140,000 by 2030, as well as shortages in-home health aides, nursing assistants, nurse practitioners and medical lab technicians by 2025.
Labor experts suggest hospitals develop a proactive response to staff shortages, and the George Washington estimator was designed to do exactly that, according to Clese Erikson, the principal investigator on the project and deputy director of the Health Equity Workforce Research Center.
Local leaders and hospital administrators can use the tool to gauge their county's ability to care for COVID-19 hospitalized patients and others who need critical care services.
THE LARGER TREND
Outside of the ICU, many hospitals are also experiencing nursing shortages for several reasons, including the possibility that nurses could get $150 an hour to be a traveling nurse versus the $48 an hour they are paid as hospital staff.
In other cases, nurses had to choose between work and having children at home while schools were not holding in-person sessions. Some nurses who were close to retirement chose to leave while others left for work outside of acute care settings.
On top of workforce shortages, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led many healthcare workers to experience strains on their mental health, including anxiety, stress, depression and loneliness.
ON THE RECORD
"The shortages could occur just as public health officials warn that variants of the coronavirus are spreading in the United States and could trigger a sharp rise in the number of Americans infected," Erikson said.
"Our new online estimator will help county and local public health officials project shortages in the near future and take steps to help keep staffing at safe levels."
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