Almost a Quarter of U.S. Hospitals Have Critical Staff Shortages, Forcing Treatment Delays

Hospitals across the country are experiencing staff shortages as more health care workers get sick with COVID-19 or consider leaving the profession altogether.

Rick Pollack, CEO and president of the American Hospital Association (AHA), told the Associated Press as of Wednesday, about 23 percent of hospitals across the country were reporting staff shortages.

He added that this has led to people waiting to seek treatment for health concerns, which causes delays in diagnoses, the AP reported. Pollack said conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure worsen the longer they go without treatment.

An October data brief from the AHA showed a top reason for the shortage among nurses was "emotional health and wellbeing of staff."

"This level of burnout coupled with ongoing COVID-19 surges, as well as other existing health care workforce pressures, has left hospitals across the country to contend with critical staffing shortages," the brief said.

The data also showed in some hospital departments—such as emergency rooms and intensive care units—staff turnover increased from 18 to 30 percent with the rise in COVID-19 concerns.

The shortage has increased so much that some health centers are looking outside the U.S. for new health care workers, bringing more in from around the world, NPR reported.

Lesley Hamilton-Powers, vice president of Florida employment agency Avant Healthcare Professionals, told NPR the company has seen a surge in requests for international nurses. Pre-pandemic, Avant would usually have 800 requests, but now it has over 4,000.

"And that's just us, a single organization," Hamilton-Powers said.

According to the NPR report, about a sixth of the U.S. nursing workforce is foreign-born, and that number is likely to increase as more nurses leave the profession.

The AHA's brief cited a Kaiser Family Foundation and Washington Post poll, which found that three in 10 health care workers had considered leaving the field. Another six in 10 said the pandemic has taken a toll on their mental health.

Fortune reported wages have jumped in many hospitals due to the demand for workers, which has caused some to have to compete with other companies for workers.

Troy Bruntz, who runs Community Hospital in McCook, Nebraska, told Fortune the hospital has to compete with the local Walmart and other large local employers for low-level positions, adding that jobs that previously paid $8 an hour were now $15 an hour.

In a statement on its website, the American Nurses Association (ANA) asked the director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to declare the nursing shortage as a national crisis.

ANA President Ernest Grant said nurses are "tired and frustrated" with the pandemic and how overwhelming it has been on the nation's health care systems.

"Nurses alone cannot solve this longstanding issue and it is not our burden to carry," Grant said. "If we truly value the immeasurable contributions of the nursing workforce, then it is imperative that HHS utilize all available authorities to address this issue."

nurse, COVID-19 vaccine, Michigan
The American Hospital Association has said that about 23 percent of U.S. hospitals are experiencing staffing shortages. Above, nurse practitioner Sarah Rauner fills a syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the Beaumont Health offices in Southfield, Michigan, on November 5, 2021. Photo by Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images