Investment in nursing workforce, training necessary to stem projected shortages

Female nurse with digital tablet talking to colleagues in hospital
(Credit: Mascot / Getty Images)

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated existing challenges within the nursing profession, with projected shortages expected to persist until 2036. A recent roundtable discussion convened by the Health Resources and Services Administration emphasized the urgent need to invest in the nursing workforce and explore innovative training approaches to effectively address those shortages.

The roundtable brought together leaders from 25 nursing and health organizations — some representing long-term care nurses — in a discussion on the recently released findings of the National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses. Approximately 15% of nurses in assisted living are RNs, according to the National Center for Assisted Living, citing government data. 

According to the survey results of almost 50,000 RNs, the nursing workforce is becoming more diverse and more highly educated. But like many other healthcare professionals, including those in assisted living communities, they are less satisfied with their jobs.

Roughly 5% of nurses left the workforce during the pandemic. Although 43% indicated plans to return, 19% said they would not return to nursing. Those who departed cited high-risk working conditions (51%), burnout (50%), inadequate staffing (39%) and unsatisfactory safety protocols (37%).

In a recent survey by ShiftKey and OnShift, 85% of assisted living operators reported that their employees were burned out or stressed, leading 96% of providers to cite employee engagement and retention as a top priority. 

An updated white paper from Argentum showed ongoing workforce challenges plaguing the senior living sector — more than 3 million workers will be needed by senior living by 2040, with more than 20 million needed across all long-term care settings. 

The NSSRN survey data revealed that approximately 4.3 million actively licensed RNs, with 3.5 million working RNs and most of them (82%) working full-time. 

Although overall job satisfaction among RNs remained relatively high at 80%, the degree of dissatisfaction increased from 11% in 2017 to almost 20% in 2021. Fully 82% of RNs who had worked in the same position for at least a year indicated that they felt burned out at some point in their career, with the majority reporting burnout increasing during the pandemic. About 26% of RNs said they felt burnout every day in 2021. 

HRSA Administrator Carole Johnson said during the roundtable that the findings reinforce the need to increase the nation’s investment in the nursing workforce as well as in innovative training approaches. 

Roundtable participants noted the importance of pathways for underrepresented students to become nurses and the need to support nurse training in clinical settings. They also called on the healthcare sector to identify innovative solutions to address burnout.

Workforce development and increased access to assisted living were key provisions of the Argentum-backed Safeguarding Elderly Needs through Innovation & Occupational Resources (SENIOR) Act. The bill would redirect existing Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Labor workforce training programs, such as Job Corps and American Job Centers, to offer specialization in senior care.

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