(WXYZ) — Since the start of the pandemic, Michigan continues to see a surge in patients. But hospitals are unable to meet the rising demand due to a nursing shortage, an issue the 7 Action News team highlighted in July.
Back then we uncovered that there were 165,000 nurses registered in Michigan but only 125,000 were working, many leaving the field due to stress, and burnout among other factors.
Today, the shortage continues. So what are health care providers doing to find a solution and where have the nurses gone?
Without enough nurses, Michigan’s health care is taking a hit. Right from beds being closed to elective surgeries postponed.
"We don’t have enough nurses, we just don’t. And so we need help," said nurse Dawn O'Neal.
Dawn has been a nurse for 30 years. And she says the recruiting efforts need to be intensified in both hospitals and nursing schools.
"In the hospital setting, we need to look at more flexible schedules, the 12-hour shifts just are no longer working," she said.
In mid-September, Beaumont Hospitals had to shut down 180 beds while Henry Ford Health closed 120 beds.
Pablo Garcia, a former nurse, almost reached burnout level before he left for grad school.
"A lot of hospitals were not really managing the shortage of nurses too well. I worked in an ICU, where our nurse to patient ratios were 1 to 2 typically, and with COVID, since we had so much shortage, we had to go to 1 to 3, or we had to triple every nurse," he said.
And then comes retirement; Alison Bell from Western Governors University says the classic supply and demand situation started way before the pandemic.
"So, we were naturally facing a shortage, it's just been exacerbated by the impact of the pandemic," said Bell.
According to the American Nurses Association, more than 500,000 registered nurses are expected to retire by 2022. Meanwhile, by next year the shortage is expected to hit 1.1 million.
There are also a lot of nurses who have moved on from bedside nursing to take up home care or even travel nursing.
"I do know that if you pick up a traveling assignment, you get paid maybe twice as much," said Garcia.
So, what are hospitals in Michigan doing to attract new hires? For starters, Indeed.com shows employment ads for nurses offering a $10,000 signing bonus and pay packages ranging from $70,000 to a whopping $170,000 per year.
There are also health care providers like Henry Ford who announced recently that they will bring in hundreds of nurses from the Philippines.
"If that is an immediate solution to the crisis, it needs to be done in tandem with long-term strategic planning," said Bell.
Increasing career advancement opportunities for existing nurses while creating space for entry-level positions, and investing in the next generation, especially through recruitment, are just some of the many tactics in play.
"The other thing that we can consider is ... look at different ways of funding hospitals," said Bell.
But regardless of what the future holds, nurses say they will always be proud of what they do.
"Especially during the pandemic, it's just rewarding to be able to really put your gifts into work, to see people get better," said Garcia.
Bell says that here in the U.S. there are various educational paths to becoming a nurse. Her advice is to make sure you do all your research before signing up.