Implications of Shortage of Healthcare Workers

The stakeholders in health care include health care providers, financiers, employers and patients. Employers and financiers include the government, state and federal as well as private health care practitioners who run their own clinics. Volunteer institutions, non-governmental organizations, philanthropic individuals and pharmaceutical companies also act as financiers. Healthcare provides include, nurses, hospital administrators, imaging and laboratory technicians, home care givers, pharmacists and information technologists. In order to deliver quality services, all the stakeholders should play their role effectively to manage hard and changing stressors.

Shortage in healthcare providers results from rising demand of health care workers in other countries, little growth in registered nurses’ wages, changes in demographics among the registered nurses’ workforce that reduces the supply of workers coupled with a stressful workplace environment (Buerhaus, Staiger & Auerbach, 2000). Nurses may opt to retire early or change careers to avoid the workplace stress associated with longer working hours and lack of time for recreation due to staffing shortages. Practicing nurses are unable to train new registered nursing graduates coming into the profession because all their attention is focused on the patients.

Governments across the world may not be able to meet the Millennium Development Goals due to shortage of healthcare workers. The people’s economic output is affected adversely if they do not get prompt healthcare service to enable them to return to their work, thus lowering the gross domestic production of a nation. The community is also deprived of enjoying good health that enables them to prosper when there are inadequate healthcare workers.

Research has established that there is an association between inadequate hospital nurse staffing and growth in risk of adverse patient outcomes and resulting cases of mortality (Needleman, Buerhaus, Mattke, Stewart & Zelevinsky, 2002). Patient outcomes improve when nurses dedicate their attention to fewer patients because patients assigned to fewer nurses may not be able to get pain drugs on time. They may also fail to receive the needed attention for their troubling symptoms and diseases like pneumonia or cardiac arrest resulting in permanent loss of function if the effects reach the brain. Fewer physicians impact negatively on patient safety, early detection of life-threatening complications, and reduced time for team work collaborations for surgical patients (GereinGreen & Pearson, 2006).

Inadequate staffing levels place considerable financial costs to patients brought about by length of stay in the hospital as the more a patient spends time in hospital the more the bills rise. Needleman et al., (2002) found that the cost of care for patients who developed pneumonia while in hospital increased by 84 percent while the length of their stay in the hospital rose by between 5.1 to 5.4 days and the probability of death increased to between 4.67 and 5.5 percent.  

Shortage of healthcare workers reduces effective communication between nurses and physician in hospitals because of overwhelming workload, which impacts negatively on patients and might lead to medication errors thus more complications. Gerein et al., (2006) state that inadequate levels of healthcare professionals reduce the number of facilities equipped to offer emergency obstetric care, which significantly affect patients’ quality of care and maternal mortality rates. Patients are forced to seek healthcare in private clinics, which may be beyond their means due to their cost, especially if they do not have healthcare insurance. Effects to patients may be dire if nurses undertake roles they are not trained on in a bid to attend to every patient for example, a patient may be misdiagnosed for pneumonia due to presence of liquid fluid in their lungs in cases where they are having cardiac arrest (Aiken, Clarke, Sloane, Sochalski, & Silber, 2002). 

More nurses lead to improved patient outcomes though it would be costly for hospitals to increase the number of healthcare workers. Stakeholders, especially the federal and state governments should thus reposition nursing as a highly versatile profession to attract more young people to take it as a career and improve the working conditions and increase federal budgetary allocation to hospitals. The problem can also be mitigated by hiring foreign healthcare workers and ensuring better pay as well as recreational time in the form of leaves and sabbaticals.


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