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Causes & Solutions For The Wisconsin Nursing Shortage During COVID-19

Health Care Workers Protest Lack Of PPE In Southern California
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SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 13: Registered nurses and healthcare workers protest what they say is a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) available for frontline workers at UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica amid the coronavirus pandemic on April 13, 2020 in Santa Monica, California. Nurses across the country have raised concerns about the lack of PPE available as the spread of COVID-19 continues.

It’s been a difficult couple of years for healthcare professionals. They’ve put their lives at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic to help our communities survive, and many of them are feeling physical and emotional exhaustion. For nurses, it’s been especially challenging.

The increased competition for employees has caused nurse shortages, in addition to fewer people entering the nursing field and nurses quitting or retiring. Nurses who remain in the field are working even harder to keep hospitals running.

Mary Beth Kingston is all too familiar with how much hospitals depend on nurses. She’s the Chief Nursing Officer for Advocate Aurora Health.

Kingston says nursing shortages in Wisconsin existed before the pandemic, but COVID-19 exacerbated it. Because there is a nationwide nursing shortage, traveling nurses' salaries were increased and became more attractive, causing nurses to leave and adding to local shortages.

"So this is greater than Wisconsin. Nurses, to me, are really the glue that holds the healthcare system together. I mean, we're certainly in hospitals, which is, I think, where people are very familiar with seeing nurses. But we're also in clinics, all of the clinic settings, we're in people's homes, we're in the community running support groups, you know, helping new moms at home. So we're really in every aspect and setting where you would see healthcare being delivered," says Kingston.

As the pandemic drags on, Kingston says fatigue and stress has only increased for nurses. "In the beginning of the pandemic, we rallied, people were helping from all different areas, the community was there. And then, as time has worn on, the exhaustion has set in," she says.

Advocate Aurora Health has rolled out incentives and programs to counter the growing exodus of nurses from the healthcare industry. However, Kingston explains that since the pandemic has moved into a long-term phase, money incentives are running out.

"And we really do have to address the stress and trauma that people are experiencing. So another thing that we are working on sounds very simple, but it's really important, is helping people to connect to their purpose," says Kingston. "And the purpose of you know, why people go into healthcare is because they want to help people. And how do we continue to focus on that?"

Kingston says Advocate Aurora Health is implementing a peer-to-peer program called 'Together As One.' The program trains professionals to identify when a person is struggling. She explains that this program can help nurses when they are out in the field.

"If you have co-workers that are there, and a leader and a manager who is there, really checking in on you and seeing how you're doing, then those individuals can then help connect people to the resources that we have available," Kingston notes.

The current shortage of nurses doesn't just impact hospitals, Kingstons says it impacts everyone.

Joy Powers hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2016.
Kobe Brown is WUWM's Eric Von fellow.
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