The New York Times published a video editorial which spells out the truth about what’s going wrong — terribly wrong — in nursing. And it pulls no punches!
Yes, “America’s nurses are overworked, burned out, and quitting in droves.” Yes, Covid-19 care has put nurses under immense additional stress and duress. Yes, the abuse and violence they suffer are traumatizing nurses. And yes, nurses are being forced to do even more with even fewer resources ever since Covid hit. But where the video doesn’t hold back is in pointing out the elephant in the room. And it’s not the virus. “The system was already broken — Covid has just made it way worse.”
The real problem, the video’s authors argue, lies in chronic understaffing, fueled by greed, which predates the pandemic, and could be addressed if hospitals and legislators wanted to.
“You have to remember that hospitals are just like any other business. Staffing takes up about half the budget. So a smaller work force means bigger profits… To maximize profits, American hospitals have been intentionally understaffing nurses for decades, long before the pandemic. What the hospital industry doesn’t want you to know is that there’s never been more licensed nurses in America. Hospitals just aren’t hiring them… This is a national emergency, but one created by the hospital industry, not the pandemic.”
The video opens with shocking testimonies of the abuse nurses face. Often racial and gendered abuse: the c-word, the n-word. Not just abuse, outright violence — biting, punching. Violence which gets normalized in a way it would never be in any other profession. We are preparing a blog post about violence and abuse on the nursing work floor; if you would like to share your experience — anonymously if you’d prefer, of course — write us. Just drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with “blog post story” in the subject line.
But the NYT video doesn’t stop there. And throughout its terse six-minute length, it doesn’t allow anyone to speak for or about nurses. It tells the story in their own voices, with their own personal experiences.
Nurses like Marci Keating and Marlena Pellegrino explain how, ultimately, it’s not patient abuse that is driving the crisis, and it’s not emotional trauma — it’s greed. “I could no longer work in critical care under the conditions I was being forced to work under, and that’s when I left.” “There’s not a shortage of nurses, there’s just a shortage of nurses willing to work under those conditions.” And “if you don’t have enough nurses, patients will die.” “Families — they feel like you’ve done the best job that you can. And the reality is we’re not.”
The video recounts the statistics that everyone should be familiar with by now. Your chances of dying go up by 7% for every additional patient a nurse has to care for. We have written about the case for nurse-to-patient ratios here, on our blog, multiple times. But a referendum to legislate such minimal standards, already in place in California, in a second state failed in Maine in 2018. The video touches upon why: a massive hospital-funded advertising campaign to defeat it. We delved much deeper into what exactly happened there, and why, on this blog as well.
So what can we do? What can hospitals do? What can you do?
Hospitals will argue that yes, there are many licensed nurses still outside the work force, but most of them are not at a point where they can be readily deployed into a live situation, not full-time, or not without extensive orientation, (re)training or more experience. And that they are very much trying to attract those who are, with unprecedented sign-on bonuses and surging travel nurse pay.
But as we argued here just a couple of months ago, that just begs the question. How smart is it to pile on ever higher sums of money on momentary raises and bonuses for a select group, teeing off your existing staff who don’t get corresponding retention bonuses in the process, while leaving a wealth of potential talent and experience unused?
If understaffing is a chronic problem, it requires long-term strategies. Investment in training and education was slashed and employers are now paying the price. Nurses would stay longer if taken seriously and provided credible career progression plans instead of one-off bonuses. Experienced nurses who have been off the job for a while and want to get back in are being rebuffed, when they too have expertise to offer. It’s time to end the short-term thinking that focuses only on current accounts and make future investments that will pay off in the longer term.
What can we offer, at NurseRecruiter.com, other than giving more advice like that to employers? Options. We can provide you with options. Because if you’re one of the many nurses who is feeling overwhelmed, overburdened, and placed in a position of moral injury, you need more options.
Of course, to do your part to help change the system at large, you can join a union, sign a petition or even two, go to the next NursesTakeDC rally, write a letter to your state senator or representative if a nurse-patient ratio law is up for consideration in your state (Illinois, Pennsylvania). Perhaps even join a picket, or go on strike when things come to a head. Those are all valid courses of action! But there isn’t much more you can do individually. And in the meantime, your first obligation is to yourself, your health and your well-being.
Accept less. Move on more quickly, now that the labour market is hot and your prospects are the best they have been in a long time. Improve your bargaining position by finding out what other employers and recruiters are offering for a position like yours. Are you seeing colleagues leave underpaid staff jobs for lucrative travel nursing positions? If your life situation allows for it, our website can help you join their ranks. If not, our site can help you track new and potentially better staff positions near you.
By all means, pursue higher nursing degrees. Consider alternatives to floor nursing. Maybe even draw up a longer-term plan to get where you need to be to work from home. But above all, start looking for a new job before you quit your current one, because the best time to find a new job is when you already have one. You can start right here, on NurseRecruiter.com.