We're Facing a Massive Nursing Shortage. On Site Childcare Is the Answer | Opinion

Here we go again: It's not even the height of flu season and hospitals are slammed, running out of beds due to the collision of respiratory viruses and a shortage of registered nurses. Per the CDC's data, the tripledemic of flu, RSV and COVID will worsen with winter, and inadequate staffing concerns aren't going anywhere.

Hospitals keep throwing money at this problem by raising salaries, enticing new employees with sign-on bonuses, and shoring up thinning rosters with premium-pay travel nurses. But as a registered nurse for over thirty years and the mother of two children, now grown, I'm here to tell you that on-site day care needs to become the standard in order to recruit and retain nurses.

When I became a mother, I didn't want to pause my career as a psychiatric nurse. My work with homeless veterans made a difference; I helped connect them to health care and housing. But when the birth of my second child coincided with a move to a different state, I suddenly found myself without a trusted provider for my toddler and newborn. This, combined with now double child care fees, made taking an eight-year hiatus from the job I loved seem like the only option.

Caregiving issues are a main reason why mothers choose not to be part of the paid workforce. American women spend 37 percent more time caring directly for their families and households compared to their male counterparts. This disproportionate workload took a toll on women's careers during pandemic school closures, with predominantly female industries like teaching and nursing hit the hardest.

When you look closely, a major factor in the nursing shortage is gender role disparity. As employers, hospitals must give female nurses the lifeline of child care to enable them to stay employed.

Ultimately, child care is a business issue; the solution to the nursing shortage must address the inequitable demands of family care that all women unfortunately continue to face.

To be sure, this gender disparity needs to change. As things stand now, a shortage of care options keeps women in particular from joining the workforce, despite available jobs. And child care stress is associated with burnout, anxiety and depression in U.S. health care workers.

But until there's equality at home, babysitting services in the workplace would undoubtedly help the women that make up over 85 percent of registered nurses, many of whom are single mothers.

Investigative Travel Nurse Story 04
Nurses wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) attend to a Covid-19 patient in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana Medical Center in Tarzana, California on December 18, 2020. Apu Gomes/AFP/Getty

Healthcare systems need a call to action. For a lasting solution to the nursing shortage, investing in on-site day care is the lifeline many nurses need to stay employed. And frontline female nurses must have power in these conversations.

Some healthcare organizations like Roper St. Francis in South Carolina have figured out the win-win of offering a child care center for employees, which they credit for helping with nurse recruitment and retention.

Margie Guillory, RN, an advanced practice nurse who had four kids in five years, says that hospital-based day care saved her decades-long career. "On-site nursery school gave me peace of mind and a realistic lens to envision and successfully maneuver work life balance," says Guillory.

The issue is, this option isn't everywhere.

Guillory, now a Boston-based Clinical Nurse Specialist and empty nester, reports that a common reason nurses decline to interview for jobs where she works is the high cost of daycare in Massachusetts.

Helping nurses with children stay employed makes good business sense, too. The cost to replace a registered nurse can run upwards of $64,000, so it's in an employer's best interest to create a family-friendly culture. Especially since the loss of an experienced nurse goes beyond the price to train a new one; a replacement may have less expertise and not respond to life-threatening signs and symptoms as quickly.

Had quality, affordable on-site preschool been the norm when I had young children, I would have continued to practice. The convenience and reliability along with close access to my kids would've made the difference, and helped with the overwhelming nature of moving to a new city.

I believe I speak for many nurses when I say that if health care systems offered the benefit of on-site child care, not only would there be less attrition related to parenting demands, but nurses would also feel seen, heard, and valued.

The ripple effect of helping nurses as they help others would go a long way in enhancing the culture of hospital work environments where mental health continues to erode. End results would be seen in improved job satisfaction, commitment to the institution, decreased nursing shortages, better patient care, and, ultimately, saved lives.

To fix the nursing shortage, health care systems must make nurses' lives easier. It should be the standard business model for hospitals to provide care for nurses' kids, so that nurses can stay employed and care for patients.

Sherrie Page Guyer, MSN, RN has worked as a nurse in various inpatient, outpatient, and educational settings. She is currently pursuing her doctorate at the University of Virginia School of Nursing.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.