Pennsylvania Nurses Say Staffing Shortage is Major Problem

October 20, 2017

A recent survey revealed that many nurses in Pennsylvania are unhappy in their jobs. The Pennsylvania Association of Nurses and Allied Professionals conducted the survey and found that the top complaint in the profession is understaffing – a problem which increases caseloads for nurses and undermines patient safety.

Inadequate staffing in the nursing profession isn’t a new development, nor is it a problem specific to Pennsylvania. In its 2009 report, “Addressing the Nursing Shortage in Pennsylvania through Grantmaking,” the Highmark Foundation identified the main reasons for nationwide nursing shortages:

  • Enrollment in nursing schools was inadequate to meet the demand for nurses in the coming decade.
  • Nursing schools were struggling to fill faculty positions and thus had to turn away many would-be students.
  • The average age of registered nurses was increasing, which means the profession will lose nurses who retire, with fewer younger nurses to replace them.
  • Job stress and burnout was leading one in five newly licensed nurses to quit their jobs within a year; an excessive caseload was one reason cited for contributing to job stress.

Shortage Predicted to Worsen

In 2016, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing told The Atlantic that the aging population and chronic disease have created “the perfect storm” in demand for nurses. People are living longer than ever before; and as they reach advanced ages, they are more likely to suffer from chronic health problems.

Hospitals are expanding, and many struggle to find the nurses they need to serve a greater number of patients. In February 2017, Geisinger Health, in Wilkes-Barre, was offering a bonus of up to $15,000 for newly hired nurses and touting its student loan forgiveness program. The hospital system was trying to fill 150 nursing positions and had gone to local nursing schools to find recruits (50 of whom promised to work for Geisinger upon graduation).

Nursing schools can’t keep up with the demand. In 2014, nursing schools turned away 78,000 applicants for bachelor and advanced degree programs in nursing, due to faculty shortages. Yet, to become faculty, educators need an advanced nursing degree. So due to faculty shortages, nursing schools are turning away the very people who could end up filling their vacant educator positions.

Improving faculty recruitment will depend largely on funding. Penn Nursing Science, for example, offers scholarships and loan forgiveness programs of up to $45,000 for graduate students who agree to work as faculty.

Public colleges and universities depend on the Commonwealth for funding. Yet, as of September 2017, Pennsylvania legislators had not established whether the budget would continue funding higher education at public institutions, which could jeopardize scholarships and lead to a steep increase in tuition.

Why the Public Should Care

Nurses play a critical role in patient care and safety. When they are overworked, overtired, and trying to serve more patients than they can realistically handle, it’s easy to make mistakes or overlook some important aspect of a patient’s health. High turnover in the profession, along with the number of nurses retiring, means new nurses may lack the oversight and guidance they need to increase their professional aptitude.

For almost 40 years, the attorneys at Wapner Newman have been the trusted advocates for injury victims throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and we have represented clients who have suffered harm due to inattentive or negligent medical care. We offer risk-free consultations and work on a contingency basis, which means that we do not require you to pay any fees until we have secured a recovery on your behalf. We encourage you to contact us today by calling 1-800-529-6600 or filling out a free case evaluation form.