The Indicator from Planet Money - The Economics of America's Nurse Shortage

Early in the pandemic, there were national shortages of protective equipment and hospital supplies. Now, there's a shortage of nurses.

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Adam Johnston is an emergency room nurse. You just got off an overnight shift years in Fargo North Dakota. And what are North dakotans? Like we have a lot of I think stoic rural population if we talk a lot, you know, like if they're presenting complaint is my wife made me come into the ER. There's probably something really wrong with them. They're probably actually pretty sick.

Horse Adams job changed totally 9 months ago Hospital. Ready for a huge surge of Kobe cases. And Adam was put in charge of the inpatient coding. It says they saw some cases and some very sick people but they never saw the huge surge. They had prepared for but he says starting in the fall. They started to see more cases and more cases and more cases were seeing patient volumes that are just beyond anything that that we've ever seen before when in 10 residents of the state has gotten sick and North Dakota has the highest covid-19 rate in the country. Adam says the hospitals are overrun facilities are adding hallway beds to their ER to be able to see more patients.

What is the Staffing situation now?

It's it's getting Ross. It's getting rough all across the country hospitals are reporting Staffing shortages. There just aren't enough nurses to meet Demand right now. This is the indicator from Planet Money. I'm Stacey Vanek Smith today on the show the nursing shortage all over the country hospitals are desperate for healthcare workers, and there just aren't enough to go around and now some states like North Dakota are resorting to drastic measures.

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In the early days of the Cove in pandemic hospitals were scrambling for equipment masks gowns ventilators things like that. Now the problem is people GB Silver's is a professor of healthcare Finance at Case Western Reserve University. So I think going forward that's going to be the big issue across the country and you cannot produce you can manufacture more nurses doesn't work. That way TV has spoken with nurses all over the country and he says simply put they are exhausted months of double shifts PPE protocols changing information patients dying and the constant fear of infection. He says it is taking a huge toll people are quitting their just quitting.

They're saying that's it. I mean how big of a problem is this?

I think it's it's it's huge. I get really big GB says as the supply of nurses is shrinking demand for nurses is skyrocketing so-called traveling nurses are typically the reserve supply for disasters. They go wherever they're needed. But right now they are needed everywhere and hospitals senior centers in nursing homes across the country are madly competing for nurses. There are reports of hospitals offering $6,000 a week to lower the man that is creating a crisis situation, especially for hospitals in rural communities and low-income areas. They don't necessarily have the money to bring in reserves or to even keep the nurses. They have at the same time. They're seeing a flood of very sick patients States like Mississippi, Colorado and Missouri are desperate. In fact the hospital Staffing situation in North Dakota got so bad that the governor Doug burgum announced the state would be taking a pretty drastic measure.

State Health officer order that now is going to allow asymptomatic covid Positive Healthcare workers to work in covid-19 of licensed Healthcare facilities doctors who test positive for covid-19 aren't showing symptoms are being asked to keep working Adam Johnston. The emergency room nurse in Fargo says, he could not believe it when he heard this. It feels like nurses are being sacrificed his colleagues North Dakota measures to contain the covid-19 outbreak. There was no mask mandate. No ban on indoor dining or large Gatherings where where are the prevention measures felt like this concept of thank you Heroes was tossed by the wayside.

We in all through the first several months. We saw lots of lots of signs, you know, thank U Healthcare Heroes and in people on on the news then in public in in there was a great strong outpouring of support and then I saw her so this is how we're going to come back over and we're going to put our nurses at risk.

You know now know now where where where is the the the recognition for being a hero in that even harder at work feel like there's no place to relax because even the staff break room is potentially full of very sick people. You cannot let your guard down at all Adam heads North Dakota's emergency Nurses Association key and other healthcare workers spoke out after the governor's announcement and the governor has since issued a Statewide mask mandate and his limited Gatherings and indoor dining. Adam says, he truly appreciates that still uses these days his job is just really hard.

So what are your days at work like now?

It's exhausting. You know, I'm I'm an ER nurse. I like results. I like to see patients get sutures and go home. I have to see us, you know, do CPR and revive people very results-oriented and

To go to work everyday and just say you know, who's who's going to die today is not what I signed up for.

And Adam says the risk of physical and psychological burnout is always looming. He says he used to be able to leave his job at work. Whatever happened during a shift. You could always leave it at the door. It was a key to avoiding burnout as a nurse. Now. Adam says, he just can't there all these moments that haunt him. He says he keeps thinking about this one covid patient who is getting sicker and sicker and Adam knew he was dying. So we called the man's emergency contact so we can at least have a FaceTime moment with a family member or a friend before he passed there was a phone number they're listed for a friend. So I called that friend and said, you know, hey, do you have contact info for for his family and he says

There is nobody hits. It's just me. I ain't I live next door and I go over there now and then check in on it. And so that that for me was just sort of the epitome of seeing.

somebody that just

died alone from this and just like very alone like like no no FaceTiming none of that.

It is just sort of put into perspective how really truly painful it is to witness that happen. So that's that's one patient that I can't forget. I think about him a lot.

This episode of the indicator was produced by Jamila Huxtable fact-checked by Sean Saldana. The indicator is edited by Patty Hirsch and is a production of NPR.
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