Nursing shortage hits a crisis point in Florida, and it is taking a toll, leaders say – South Florida Sun Sentinel

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In an unusual collaboration, leaders from Florida nursing homes and hospitals joined forces on Monday to report nurse staffing is at crisis levels and affecting patient care.

These employers say their staff has been decimated from a combination of burnout, early retirement, and staffing agencies who recruit their workers to travel, and the result is a negative toll on the care of millions of Floridians.

“The consequences of letting this go unsolved is significant,” said Emmett Reed, CEO of Florida Health Care Association. “Solving the crisis requires Florida to take a forward-thinking approach.”

Employers such as nursing homes, hospitals, home health care agencies and assisted living facilities spoke out about the “crisis” during a news conference Monday. They focused much of the blame on staffing agencies that offer nurses higher salaries as well as an increase in the minimum wage that caused workers to leave for other jobs.

Gerard Brogan, director of nursing practice for National Nurses United, said Florida’s nursing shortage is a self-created crisis. Nurses are leaving healthcare employers to take travel nurse or temporary nurse positions that pay more and place them back on the staff of local hospitals or nursing homes at higher wages, he said.

“Nurses are taking advantage of an opportunity to get out of low-pay jobs,” Brogan explained. “The industry needs to sit down and take a good look at itself as to why this is happening. They are crying shortage because they now see nurses as an expensive unit of labor. Their solutions include trying to replace the gaps with less experienced, lower-paid, right-out-of-school nurses.”

While the employers offered potential solutions at Monday’s news conference, the nurses themselves were not represented.

“This is one of the problems, nurses are left out of the conversation,” said Willa Fuller, executive director of the Florida Nurses Association. Fuller said employers did not recognize early enough that nurses were not going to put up with low wages and the disregard for safety they experienced during COVID.

If resources were put toward nurses to begin with, this couldn’t happen. If the work environment was healthy, if pay was equitable, agencies wouldn’t be able to come and sweep in,” Fuller said.

Florida seniors are suffering because eldercare centers can’t find staff but still must operate 24/7, Reed said. “If they don’t have caregivers, they must limit residents. There are thousands of jobs vacant.”

The vacancies exist in hospital positions, too. In Florida’s hospitals in 2021, the turnover rate of nurses has been the highest ever experienced, according to a Florida Hospital Association survey. At least 1 in 4 nurses quit their jobs this year and 1 in 3 critical care nurses.

“While it breaks my heart for any business to have to reduce its hours, or shut down a day during the week hospitals can’t close on Mondays,” said Mary Mayhew, Florida Hospital Association CEO. “We saw during the delta surge what happens when you could bring beds in but you can’t staff them. We had over 15% of hospitals that were unable to accept patient transfers.”

Mayhew said going forward, the shortage may worsen, with a projected need for more than 59,000 nurses by 2035.

For now, many Florida nursing homes and hospitals are using temporary workers to fill shifts. “Sometimes there is a new person every single day and it’s not possible for them to understand the needs and care of the resident,” said Nick Van Der Linden with LeadingAge Florida, which represents senior communities.

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Home health agencies are having similar staffing challenges, resulting in home health and home care agencies turning patients away and developing waiting lists.

Employers have begun assembling a list of solutions to the shortage and announced legislative policy and budget fixes they will propose:

  • Ensuring that Medicaid funding keeps pace with the cost of care so eldercare centers can offer competitive wages.
  • Investing in nurse education programs and strategies to train more nurses and Certified Nursing Assistants.
  • Conducting an in-depth investigation into the practices of nurse staffing agencies.
  • Using state agencies to track and evaluate workforce shortage data.
  • Allowing experienced nurses to moonlight as faculty at nursing schools.

Bobby Lolley, executive director of the Home Care Association of Florida, said he believes a solution is for the state to pay to educate new Certified Nurse Assistants. “It’s crucial we need more of them so we are going to have to work to bring creative solutions.”

Fuller said nurses associations have solutions, too. “It’s not that hard to figure out. They need to create work environments where nurses can deliver care safely, feel valued and have good salaries for good quality of life.”

Retention is a better solution than focusing solely on adding new nurses, Brogan said.

“Treat your nurses better, pay them more. It will save you money in the long term.”