The American healthcare industry and its workforce have faced extraordinary challenges in the past couple of years. The COVID-19 pandemic has stressed many hospitals and workers to the breaking point since 2020, and, unfortunately, 2022 is forecasted to be another challenging year for many. There will be many obstacles for healthcare workers, many of them without clear solutions or answers. If you’re looking to learn more about the industry and its immediate feature, we’ll be breaking down the biggest challenges for healthcare workers in 2022 in this article, including staff shortages, burnout, staff turnover, and more.
The most significant problem healthcare workers and the industry are experiencing and will continue to struggle with is staff shortages. Lack of a good staff was a problem for many hospitals pre-pandemic, and COVID-19 has only exacerbated the situation to crises levels. A study showed that full-time equivalent hospital staff had shrunk 3% from pre-pandemic levels. Couple this shortage with hospitals operating at, near, and sometimes even overcapacity, and the problem is only intensified. A worker shortage is a significant problem for both hospitals and workers, and many of the challenges facing the industry currently and in the future stem from inadequate staffing. New issues arise, and other problems exacerbate the shortages that many hospitals already struggle with.
The increased workload that COVID-19 has brought to hospitals and staff has been especially detrimental to workers. Without proper support from other resources, the remaining staff are asked to work longer hours and in different capacities, sometimes outside their training, leading to staff worker burnout and low morale. It also directly affects patients and the ability of healthcare workers to do their jobs adequately. The U.S. News & World Report reported that four out of every five healthcare workers say staff shortages have negatively affected their ability to work safely and satisfy the needs of their patients. Workers see the problem and struggle under their conditions, but how do things look for the future?
Unfortunately for workers, the trend is that things will get worse in the coming years. The U.S. healthcare industry is trending toward a shortage of 3.2 million workers by 2026. That’s a staggering number that shows how serious the problem is. Without practical solutions or resources, the need for healthcare workers could be hazardous to healthcare workers and patients soon.
Burnout Among Workers
One can’t understand the staffing shortage without learning about the rate of burnout many healthcare workers feel and have felt for years. Like the previous pandemic years, healthcare workers in 2022 face alarming challenges, and chief among them is burnout from working longer and harder hours. The pandemic has taken a toll on workers—not only physically, but also mentally. A 2021 survey of healthcare workers showed that nearly 30% are considering leaving the profession entirely. As we mentioned, burnout and staff shortages are permanently linked. The shrinking hospital staff leads to higher burnout, leading to more workers leaving and greater stress on remaining staff. It can be a devastating cycle for facilities if it’s allowed to continue with any applied solutions.
The same study found that working during the pandemic has affected the mental health of 60% of healthcare workers. With some hospitals at, or in some cases over-capacity, healthcare workers are bearing the brunt of long hours with more challenges as they work to fill the gaps of diminishing personnel. Many within the industry hoped that 2021 and 2022 would see a return to normalcy for hospitals and staff with the introduction of vaccines and booster shots. However, hospitals operating at their limits with limited resources have evaporated many hopes for a more normal year in healthcare. COVID-19 variants have pushed healthcare facilities to capacities seen at the pandemic’s peak, pre-vaccine. Whether or not COVID-19 cases go down in 2022, it’s a safe assumption that burnout among staff will continue to be one of the biggest challenges facing healthcare workers in 2022.
Not Enough Time With Patients
We’ve talked about the problems facing healthcare workers and the industry so far, but what we haven’t mentioned yet are the patients. How do all these challenges translate to patient care? As you might expect, these circumstances trickle down to more challenges in treating patients. Fewer nurses and physicians working longer hours means saving time in other areas, such as facetime with patients. In April of 2020, the Cleveland Clinic saw the consequence of this as its complaint rate of patients toward healthcare workers more than doubled, as threatening and violent behavior also increased. These complaints came at the height of the initial surge of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s easy to see how this trend could become more prevalent in hospitals as variants of the pandemic push hospitals across the country to their capacity like in the first year of COVID-19.
The deterioration of relationships between patients and hospital staff is a natural result of shortages and reports of burnout among the remaining team. In 2022, these same problems will likely persist, leading to greater stress on patient-staff relationships. Liability insurance for healthcare facilities is likely to become even more critical. As relationships between patients and healthcare workers falter due to the decreased time doctors and nurses have with their patients, it’s only logical that complaints will arise. Possible lawsuits will increase against facilities as well. Legal protection in 2022 and beyond will be a crucial resource for many facilities in 2022.
High Turnover Rate
As one might expect from the increased work hours and the difficulty of the job, turnover among healthcare workers has increased under the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nursing and other essential positions were already susceptible to high turnover rates pre-pandemic, and COVID-19 has only aggravated that trend. In a survey of healthcare workers, Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA) and Registered Nurses (RN) accounted for two of the three highest turnover positions within hospitals, exceeded only by Patient Care Techs. In healthcare facilities, one in four CNA positions is turned over in a year, essentially replacing the entire staff within four years on average. The turnover rate for RNs was slightly lower, at one in six, but still much higher than most professions in other industries.
What leads to this high turnover rate amongst critical positions for facilities? The simple explanation is that it’s an extraordinarily tough job that has only been made more challenging by the COVID-19 pandemic. It also points to low morale among the workforce, even for those who remain on the staff for years. RNs and CNAs work together daily under challenging circumstances, which makes close relationships between coworkers natural. Losing not only a relied-upon coworker but a close friend at regular rates can be devastating for the confidence of staff.
There are many questions and obstacles ahead for healthcare workers and facilities in 2022 and beyond. The most prevalent of them is a lack of adequate staff to fill facilities, and from this shortage, more problems branch out, such as staff burnout, a decrease in patient-worker relations, and an increase in staff turnover. Like 2021 and 2020, healthcare workers will face many challenges, and only time will tell how facilities and the industry will react to these obstacles soon. Keep reading the Baxter & Associates blog to learn more about the inner workings of the healthcare industry and the latest news.