Where are the Health Workers

By Jo Carroll

Pictured: Person in a lab coat with stethascope. Image courtesy of Sergey Tinyakov

You might have noticed the headlines as you click on news sources recently. Headlines reading “American Nursing Crisis” or “Nursing Homes Struggle to Staff.”


With Americans recently having passed the two year mark of COVID-19 lock downs and entering into what seems like another spike of the virus, many employers, experts, and the public in general are asking where all the healthcare workers are going.


A good place to start is looking at a recent prosecution of a nurse named RaDonda Vaught. In this landmark case, nurse RaDonda Vaught was tried for administering the wrong medication to a patient due to a miscommunication between herself and doctors that resulted in the death of a patient.


Nurses took to online forums and websites to express their concern about the litigation, stating that it sets a dangerous precedent for nurses who make mistakes on the job to be criminally prosecuted.


This gained so much traction that news publishers like NPR and The Associated Press ran articles detailing the concern.

Pictured: A tired nurse sitting with head in lap. Image courtesy of Getty Images

One New York Times opinion piece gathered the collective voice of nurses and detailed another reason nurses are leaving the field: pay and staffing.


In the piece “Hospital Greed is Destroying Our Nurses. Here's Why.” The nurses interviewed detail how they are challenged consistently with bare minimum staffing and above normal patient ratios that make it possible for them to make grave mistakes.


Even getting on Tik-Tok, it is likely that you might encounter a video of a nurse crying in their car, detailing their work shift and why they might not be returning to work the next day.


Tik-Tok user nurse_queen8 posted such a video stating that her hospital would begin requiring them to see COVID-19 patients and despite her health conditions which make her a potential high risk case were she to contract the virus. Despite 16 years as a nurse, she opened the video stating she was going to quit.


In response to the national shortage, public officials have been trying to legislate the issue to ensure the success of health facilities and prevent a potential shortcoming of our current systems.


As of the 18th of May Governor Jared Polis of Colorado signed into law a bill that would require hospitals to maintain a minimum number of nurses on duty at all times or face fines. However, this move received criticism on both sides of the issue.


Hospitals who are affected by this legislation raised concern due to the ongoing shortage that they might not be able to staff as the bill requires and would lead to unpreventable fines that may then raise the prices of care and procedures.


On the other side, many criticized Polis, who stated he might prevent fines from being levied for the first year and subsequent years depending on circumstances.


Other legislators however, are considering other means of encouraging nurses to return to work in hospitals.


Earlier in the year, a letter signed by 200 members of Congress called for there to be an investigation into travel nurse agencies and suggested that travel nurse pay be capped in order to regulate hospital attrition.


Despite the approach, everyone agrees that not having healthcare staff is a potential catastrophe waiting to happen.


As we continue to move forward, many states along with federal legislators are anticipating the nursing shortage to be a hot button topic of the midterm elections and something that will need to be officially addressed with legislation moving forward.