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Study: Healthcare worker shortage second highest concern for Virginians after crime, violence

Nurse COVID-19
Posted at 4:52 PM, Jul 27, 2022

RICHMOND, Va. -- A new poll from the Virginia Hospital and Health Care Association (VHHA) shows health care workforce shortages were the second most commonly cited public health concern among Virginians after violence and crime.

According to VHHA, the findings are among the results of a poll of 800 registered Virginia voters.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported about 18 percent of Virginia hospitals were deemed "critically understaffed."

"We're down, I would say, several thousand hospital staff members in Virginia," said Julian Walker, VHHA's Vice President of Communications.

Although staffing shortages persisted in healthcare settings prior to the pandemic, Walker said there's a series of factors that play into longer wait times and higher occupancy rates among area hospitals.

"Data, anywhere you look, but we'll cite the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You know, their data has shown that there is something of a bottleneck that is forming," Walker said. "You have more people are particular age cohort, the baby boomers who are aging into retirement. Those folks who tend to be older tend to have a higher utilization and sometimes greater medical needs and therefore, higher utilization of health care services."

According to this hospital bed occupancy tracker, Bon Secours' St. Francis hospital was last reported to have a seven-day average hospital bed occupancy rate of about 94%. Bon Secours Memorial Regional was also reported to be at about 94% occupancy on the same tracker.

Walker said one reason why hospitals may be facing longer wait times and higher occupancy rates could be due to staffing shortages in psychiatric facilities.

"When those patients need to go to a state psychiatric hospital if the state psychiatric hospital can't accommodate them, what happens to those patients then, they're sitting in the emergency department for hours or days on end, while they're waiting for a transfer to an appropriate in-patient facility," Walker said.

Bon Secours is now introducing a new program called "Flex Nursing," to not only recruit nursing staff but to give them more flexibility within their job.

"So our nurses that are in our flexible programs and our market or facilities have been trained all the same way," said Brenda Woodcock, Bon Secours' Richmond Market Chief Nursing Officer.

"So there's really they have the bonds, the core training, and they go through orientation and training. Just like any other nurse would that enters our system. What we have found is actually, travelers that may not be affiliated with Bon Secours/Mercy Health, they are converting to some of these programs now."

Walker said even with the added help, every day may pose a new challenge.

“Because the combination of shortages and growing demand especially for behavioral health services, you can see where that can create something of a pinch point or a choke point in the system," he said. "Those are realities that healthcare providers like hospitals have to grapple with and adjust to on a daily basis.”

These problems, Walker said, could be a cause for concern when it comes to public safety.

“You know, when a sheriff's deputy or police officer, you know, is involved in responding to a mental health call and then they have to transport the patient to the hospital, and then they're waiting to transport that patient to the facility where they're going to get transferred to for inpatient care, however long that that police officer or deputy is assigned to that patient," Walker said. "That's hours that that person is not out patrolling the streets, you know, focusing on their primary responsibility, which is, you know, community safety to protect and serve.”

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