Rural regions bear brunt of nation’s nurse workforce crisis

Nadia Ramlagan

In rural communities, severe staffing shortages have increased hospital wait times and worsened quality of care.

According to the latest report by the West Virginia Hospital Association, nursing had the highest overall rates of vacancies and turnovers, at more than 19% and 26% respectively.

Rebecca Love, a nurse and chief clinical officer at IntelyCare, a nurse staffing company, said in rural regions, hospitals often become the stopgap solution for both residents’ health and communities’ economic well-being.

“All of the community relies on that health care system to not only deliver primary care and preventive care, but also acute-level cares when there are those situations such as heart attacks or anaphylaxis responses,” Love pointed out.

According to the report, West Virginia hospitals are licensed for around 6,400 beds, but currently can only staff 4,800. And the West Virginia Center for Nursing said faculty recruitment is a barrier to expanding nursing programs in the state, driven in part by low salaries in comparison to other states.

Love added when nurses are stretched thin and juggling too many cases, patient care suffers.

“When you have a nurse that can’t see those patients, it means people who are suddenly in respiratory distress are not getting seen,” Love pointed out. “People that are having a change of status. Those who need meds are not getting their medications.”

Nurses have been at the forefront of an increasing number of strikes at hospitals across the nation since the pandemic. Last week, around 7,500 Kaiser Permanente health care workers, including nurses, went on a three-day strike over staffing levels and pay. The union said it is asking Kaiser to hire 10,000 new employees to fill gaps, and increase wages to keep up with the cost of living, including a $25 per hour minimum wage.