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Addressing the nursing workforce shortage crisis

Delaware Public Media

Around the country, nurses continue to be in high demand as hospitals, schools, and various long-term care facilities struggle to fill their ranks.

The First State is no exception.

Delaware’s Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester recently sent a letter to the Biden Administration asking it to address the nursing workforce shortage.

This week, our Quinn Kirkpatrick caught up with Elizabeth Speakman – Senior Associate Dean, Chief Academic Nurse, and Professor at the University of Delaware School of Nursing – for more insight into the nursing shortage and what can be done about it.

Delaware Public Media's Quinn Kirkpatrick chats with the University of Delaware School of Nursing's Elizabeth Speakman about the nursing workforce shortage

The nursing workforce shortage is a nationwide issue - one Delaware feels every day.

The shortage began over a decade ago, and has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester says in 2021, 45% of Delaware nurses surveyed said they would likely leave their job within six months.

“It’s estimated that over 500,000 nurses plan to leave the bedside by the end of this year, 2022, creating a shortage of 1.1 million nurses nationwide,” said Blunt Rochester. “So, we are not the only ones in the country struggling with this, but with us being such a small state we feel it. We all feel it.”

During the pandemic, the call for more nurses grew stronger as the profession became more demanding.

Long shifts, workplace hazards, and the emotional toll of the profession are among the factors made worse by COVID-19’s impact on hospitals.

Elizabeth Speakman is the Chief Academic Nurse at the University of Delaware. She says burnout is a major reason why it's difficult to recruit and retain nurses.

“I think what’s come to light recently because of the pandemic is your seeing nurses who may have stayed longer in the workforce leaving because of exhaustion or… being put in a position where we were in the pandemic, especially during the beginning, of really being that significant other to someone as they passed away,” Speakman explained.

Speakman says one way to address the nursing workforce shortage is giving nurses a platform to speak about the positive aspects of the job. While providing emotional support to patients and their families is hard, Speakman says it’s also rewarding.

She adds legislation and increased support for nursing education are also important tools to help current and future nurses.

Blunt Rochester also recognizes the impact of education on the shortage. In 2021 she introduced the TRAIN Act, which protected Beebe Healthcare’s Margaret H. Rollins School of Nursing, and other hospital-based nursing schools nationwide from a claw back of millions of federal dollars.

Most recently, Blunt Rochester wrote a letter to the Biden Administration calling on the Office of Management and Budget to outline a coordinated national strategy to address the nursing shortage in the President’s 2024 budget

She hoped to make the Administration aware of bipartisan efforts to address the issue, such as her work in the bipartisan TRAIN Act, as well as the National Nursing Workforce Center Act, which she introduced in September.

That bill would help establish a federal nursing-focused Health Workforce Research Center and provide funding to support state-based nursing workforce centers.

The full text of Blunt Rochester's letter can be found here.

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Quinn Kirkpatrick was born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware, and graduated from the University of Delaware. She joined Delaware Public Media in June 2021.