GREEN BAY (NBC 26) — The "Great Resignation" has created a shortage of health care workers across the state, according to the 2022 Health Care Workforce Report put out by the Wisconsin Hospital Association.
The WHA found that there has been increase in vacancies in 13 of the 17 professions tracked in the report, with seven positions registering double-digit vacancy rates. In particular, the report found that there is a critical shortage of nurses, with registered nurse vacancy rates in the double digits for the first time since 2005.
Prior to 2021, about 1 in 10 RNs changed jobs annually. In 2021, that number was approaching 1 in 5 according to the report. The frontline technical positions of certified nursing assistant (CNA), surgical tech, respiratory therapist and licensed practical nurse made up the the top five vacancy rates.
The report also found that hospitals turned to staffing agencies for temporary workers as never before.
“Travel nurses didn’t necessarily have to travel very far," said Ann Zenk, the WHA Senior Vice President of Workforce and Clinical Practice. "We saw a lot of nurses leave employment to temporarily go work for staffing agencies right in the same town they had.”
Cortney Haak and Brandon Boyd, two Appleton natives who are now a travel couple, left their jobs at a hospital in Milwaukee to do travel nursing in 2020. The two are ICU nurses with the agency Aya Healthcare and have worked in Washington, New Mexico, and are now on assignment in Colorado.
“We had the credentials and the ability to join in and to experience different things and different places at the same time so it really felt like kind of a no-brainer for us,” Haak said.
As the pandemic continued, they saw firsthand the strain that the nursing shortage was putting on hospitals across the country.
“You take more patients than you sometimes feel safe to have and you’re expected to stay a little longer if there wasn’t enough nurses to show up to be given patients,” Haak said.
As for what is causing the shortage of nurses, Linda Scott, the dean of the UW-Madison Nursing School says the issue is starting with nursing programs. She says less students are being accepted to nursing schools due to a lack of nursing faculty and clinical sites.
"Across the United States, nursing programs deny around 80,000 qualified applicants annually," Scott said. "In Wisconsin, the nursing programs turn away almost 1,000 qualified applicants."
Another factor contributing to the shortage is that many nurses are nearing retirement age. Hospitals are having to find new ways to attract and retain new generations of workers.
“You have a number of nurses who are approaching retirement so one of the other things that the pandemic did was sort of escalate the trend to retire,” Scott said.
"As baby boomers aren't the prominent generation in our workforce, we're also seeing different preferences among the new generations entering the workforce, preferences for more flexible work schedules, being more willing to change jobs," Zenk said. "Hospitals and health systems and health care employers are really looking at what needs to change within the workplace to appeal to a younger generation of workers.”