A shortage of nurses is gripping Georgia, and all hospitals are looking for medical assistants, a source says. One key factor fueling Atlanta’s nursing shortage is that the city’s population “is growing fairly rapidly, and our elderly population is growing fairly rapidly.”
“There is absolutely a nursing shortage in Georgia, and a larger shortage is looming on the horizon,’’ says Ninfa Saunders, president and CEO of Navicent Health in Macon. “This shortage seems to be one of the most significant and continues to worsen.’’
There is not an equivalent nationwide shortage, says Peter Buerhaus, a health care workforce expert at Montana State University. He says there are scattered reports of local shortages, “but not a uniform overall national outbreak as we used to see back in the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s and early 2000s.’’
Georgia has about 69,000 employed RNs (not including advanced practice registered nurses), who average about $63,000 in pay annually, according to 2015 figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Other organizations put the number of active RNs in Georgia at 80,000 to more than 90,000.
While some experts say a lack of nurses is a perennial problem in Georgia, others see the current hiring period as particularly bad, and they expect things to get worse.
“I have been in nursing for over 30 years,’’ says Jacqueline Herd, chief nursing officer at Grady Health System in Atlanta. “Those of us who have been in practice for a while have seen nursing shortages come and go. However, this is expected to be the worst ever.”
Another Atlanta-area hospital executive says “the nursing shortage is back – with a vengeance.”
Rise in retirements contributes to shortage
Meanwhile, Fort, who works for Accountable Healthcare Staffing, sees a strong national demand for travel nurses. Her company has up to 11,000 job openings now, she says. “Historically, it’s very high.’’
The RN supply problem here and elsewhere is driven by several factors, nurses say.
One issue is the retirement of older nurses.
Peter McMenamin, senior policy adviser at the American Nurses Association, says, “What we see evolving is the loss of experienced nurses, particularly those who entered the profession in the mid-1970s to mid-1980s. There was a substantial increase in funding for nursing education in 1971-1973. Those nurses are or soon will be retiring, and there aren’t as many somewhat less experienced nurses to step up into those jobs.‘’
Nationwide, there are roughly 1 million nurses who are approaching retirement, McMenamin says.
A major factor in retirements is that hospital nurses are finding the job tougher than ever. RNs working at the bedside are dealing with the reality of America’s aging population. The typical patient is likely to be older and sicker than in the past.
“Patients are living longer, getting sicker and, in many cases, suffering from multiple chronic illnesses, says Jill Case-Wirth, chief nursing executive at WellStar Health System, the state’s largest hospital system.
“The baby boomer population [people born between the mid-1940s and the mid-1960s] is aging and requiring more health care services — orthopedics, cardiology, pulmonary,’’ says Janis Dubow, chief nursing officer at Northside Hospital.