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Wednesday, June 12, 2024

The health care workforce crisis is already here

Caitlin Owen
Originally posted 7 June 24

Demoralized doctors and nurses are leaving the field, hospitals are sounding the alarm about workforce shortages and employees are increasingly unionizing and even going on strike in high-profile disputes with their employers.

Why it matters: Dire forecasts of health care worker shortages often look to a decade or more from now, but the pandemic — and its ongoing fallout — has already ushered in a volatile era of dissatisfied workers and understaffed health care facilities.
  • Some workers and experts say understaffing is, in some cases, the result of intentional cost cutting. Regardless, patients' access to care and the quality of that care are at risk.
  • "There are 83 million Americans today who don't have access to primary care," said Jesse Ehrenfeld, president of the American Medical Association. "The problem is here. It's acute in rural parts of the country, it's acute in underserved communities."
The big picture: Complaints about understaffing, administrative burdens and inadequate wages aren't new, but they are getting much louder — and more health workers are leaving their jobs or cutting back their hours.

Here are some thoughts:

The news of the healthcare workforce crisis being "already here" is deeply concerning.  It's not just about future projections; it's about the impact on patient care, provider well-being, and the ethical obligations we all share.

Providers will likely walk an ethical tightrope, that will likely have negative consequences. Imagine a doctor facing a packed waiting room, knowing some patients won't receive the time and attention they deserve.  This is the reality for many providers stretched thin by staffing shortages. It creates an ethical tightrope: how to deliver quality care amidst overwhelming pressure.  Burnout, compassion fatigue, and even medical errors become more likely.  This is likely the starting point for the possibility of moral distress and/or moral injury.

The crisis isn't just a burden on healthcare providers or institutions. It's a societal challenge.  Policymakers, educators, and even patients themself can play a role.

This isn't about pointing fingers; it's about recognizing a shared responsibility.  By working together, we can ensure a healthcare system that is ethical, sustainable, and provides quality care for all.