Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, concern has been growing about maintaining proper staffing levels at hospitals and other healthcare facilities to assure appropriate patient care. As more virulent variants of the virus now surge, nurses, in particular, have proven difficult to attract and retain. This has placed the stability of the entire American healthcare system at risk.
Faced with a lack of nursing staff, hospitals have been forced to reduce the number of beds available, including closing whole wings. Emergency rooms are overrun because there are no available beds within the hospitals to transfer patients who need added care and states where infections are particularly bad have resorted to utilizing the national guard to assist as hospitals struggle with staffing shortages. In short, the healthcare industry is trying to cope with difficult conditions that are unprecedented.
Against the backdrop of this public health crisis, certain labor organizations, including some nurse’s unions, are taking measures that could exacerbate this crisis. The largest nurses’ union in the United States, for example, National Nurses United (NNU), refuses to acknowledge that a nursing shortage even exists. They have staged protests at hospitals and have stirred up discontent across the country in recent months, demanding better hours and improved pay.
While no one disagrees that nurses must be fairly compensated for their work, continued pressure from these efforts could put the viability of our healthcare facilities as well as patient safety in jeopardy. The reality is protesting hospitals will not help solve these unprecedented issues. The facts also do not bear out the union’s allegations.
Governmental data has found that the need for registered nurses is expected to grow by 12 percent from 2018-2028 compared to an average of 7 percent across all occupations. A diminished supply of nurses and those that are electing to undergo career transition have raised serious concerns that there will not be enough nurses to meet all of the future demand. Despite this difficult period, however, hospitals have intensified their efforts to attract and retain needed nursing staff by continuing to increase salaries and offering signing bonuses, more flexible hours, and additional benefits.
Although NNU claims the pay their members receive is inadequate, pay increases for nurses have far outpaced that of most other professions and the job security provided by this in-demand occupation will continue to increase.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a 2020 median annual salary for RNs of $75,330 with an annual increase of 3.9 percent, one of the highest annual increases in a profession. Nurses with advanced degrees such as nurse practitioners earn even more. According to BLS the median nurse practitioner salary is $114,510.
These salary figures which do not include bonuses, employment benefits and other income enhancements demonstrate how competitive pay in this field has become.
Working conditions have also been a hot-button issue. While there is no denying the unprecedented levels of burnout healthcare workers are suffering from, healthcare facilities are doing all they can to meet the needs of their staff. Hospitals continue to strive to offer nurses a work-life balance by offering flexible work schedules and U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks several nursing professions among the 100 Best Jobs in the country. Despite arguments to the contrary, nurses find tremendous satisfaction in their profession. An American Nurse Journal survey found 85 percent of nurses said they would become a nurse again even though they have been contending with the pandemic.
Nurses are a vital part of our country’s medical system and national surveys show that the public views nursing as one of the most trusted and respected professions. They deserve our honor and respect every day, and especially during these challenging times.
But given the strain our healthcare system faces treating COVID-19 patients who need extended hospital care, unions representing these healthcare heroes should find ways to better serve their members. Working collaboratively with hospitals to address staffing needs, as opposed to disrupting hospitals with picket lines and protests, would be a good start as the latter will not improve outcomes for patients nor healthcare workers. Ending this pandemic once and for all will be an all-hands-on-deck effort, but we can overcome this obstacle if we work together.