'We're seeing a high level of burnout.' How bad is Michigan's nursing shortage?

Posted at 1:54 PM, Jul 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-22 18:28:27-04

(WXYZ) — The Michigan Nurses Association recently released a video to lobby for new legislation to limit the number of hours RNs are forced to work and the number of patients they are assigned.


In the video, a nurse says, “I’ve been a registered nurse in Oakland County for seven years, in the worst public health crisis in 100 years hospitals let us down ... nurses are left on their own, working 16 hour days fighting an endless battle to keep our patients safe. People's lives are risk, and it needs to stop.”

The Michigan Health and Hospital Association released a statement in response that says in part:

“The MHA believes hospitals need to have the ability to choose the staffing models that best fit the individual needs of their patients and communities.”

But the MNA says staffing models don’t work.

The video goes on to say, “And even now, as we start to recover our hospitals, we still have not set staffing levels to ensure our patients get quality care.”

How bad is Michigan's nursing shortage? According to the Bureau of Health Workforce Database and NurseJournal, there are 29 states with the same or fewer nurses per capita as Michigan, and travel nursing agencies are feeling it.

"We're seeing a high level of burnout. Hospitals are seeing, I think, their highest vacancy rate in several years. And so they're having to replace their own staff that's burnt, which is in turn causing, you know, our needs to increase," said Sophia Morris, Vice President of Account Management at Aya Healthcare. "At the beginning of the pandemic, we had about 6,000 clinicians on assignment, we more than tripled our clinicians on assignment in the past year. It's been a very, very busy year, for us as a company."

Surprisingly, the number of people applying for nursing licenses has increased by more than 1,000 when you compare the first 6 months of 2020 to the first 6 months of this year.

And there appears to be a nurse staffing and licensing gap:

So where have all the nurses gone?

"We're getting roughly 350,400 job views per week on our platform," said Morris.

Many nurses and others messaged us on Facebook to share their struggle with the profession:

Some also said they left local hospitals to take a travel nurse position for better pay and better working conditions.

"We were seeing over $10,000 a week in certain areas, super hot spots during the pandemic that are critical care," she said.

Pay is not that high right now, but While Michigan hospitals can legally require their nurses to work mandatory overtime, travel nurses are governed by agency contracts.

"It's based off of the terms that we discussed with the facilities. So a facility can't necessarily mandate that anybody is required to stay," said Morris.

Their database of travel nurses has grown significantly and staffing requests from hospitals are increasing.

"I saw 26,000 last week, this week, I literally just checked our numbers again, we're seeing over 31,000 traveling jobs available right now," she said.

And as far as the shortage ...

"I really, truly think that it was an interesting year for people and they're evaluating what they want to do with their, you know, with their professional careers moving forward," said Morris.

The Michigan Nurses Association believes passing a law to get rid of mandatory overtime and setting patient to nurse ratio limits would make hospitals a safer and more appealing place to work.

Anika Gross CEO of Detroit Future City, an economic development think-tank, says solutions are often found by listening to employees and understanding the community.

"The vast majority of head of households in Detroit are single working women," said Gross.

The majority of nurses are women too, but it takes training.

"Having accessible access to technical education that can get you on that ladder is a privilege and a benefit that not a lot of people can afford ... so I think that, you know, there's some work that needs to be done, you can't just say there's a nursing shortage so now you should be a nurse. There has to be a whole system around that helps to promote and advance," said Gross.