A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Alison Bell: With nurses exiting field at alarming rate, healthcare workers are in need of ‘rapid response’

Our healthcare workers are still feeling the pinch from the COVID-19 pandemic. There doesn’t seem to be a true end in sight for our healthcare workforce, with one concerning variant seemingly moving out of the headlines, and another quickly picking up speed.

As a result, some healthcare workers – primarily nurses – are choosing to leave the profession altogether, which in turn is worsening the situation for those who stay. As reported by NurseJournal.org based on the most recent available data from the Bureau of Health Workforce, Kentucky has just 13.65 nurses per 1,000 people, ranking it 29th for the lowest ratio by state. This illustrates the true deficit the healthcare workforce is facing.

Alison Bell

Another recent survey by the Kentucky Nurses Association found that more than half of Kentucky’s nurses reported feelings of exhaustion, anxiety and overwhelm as they face the unpredictability of COVID-19 both personally and professionally. Collectively, this calls for a “rapid response” for our healthcare workforce.

When a patient’s condition is quickly deteriorating, our doctors and nurses rely on a “rapid response” team, which is made up of a specialized group of medical professionals to step in at an instant to provide additional support. At this point in time, these healthcare workers find themselves in need of a “rapid response” to help ease the burden they continue to carry from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fortunately, our hospital and state leaders have options to help resuscitate and support our healthcare workers by reevaluating how Kentucky hospitals deliver care and providing accessible mentorship and career advancement opportunities.

Affordable and flexible education opportunities help retain and upskill talent within the healthcare field, especially for those who are entering the workforce in positions such as licensed practical nurses or medical assistants. These professionals, even if they’re newer to the workforce, are oftentimes qualified to step in and support the nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, etc. By creating more opportunities for other healthcare workers to support and grow, we can help ease the workload across all roles.

While most healthcare systems would agree that mentorship is an important factor in preparing new professionals, the overall fatigue, staffing shortages and continued ramifications of the pandemic have made it more challenging to identify qualified nurses to serve as preceptors, or nurses who support the next generation of nurses by providing practical, useful feedback and encouraging critical thinking. Preceptor relationships serve a crucial role in guiding new nurses and we must explore how we can continue to provide this valuable experience for the industry given current resources.

Nurses and healthcare workers provide an essential lifeline, but they are in dire need of support. We must come together to prioritize their wellbeing and, in turn, improve the wellbeing of our communities.

Alison Bell is regional vice president of Western Governors University

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