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The Dilemma and Heartache of Healthcare Staffing Shortages

I’ve spent my entire career in healthcare and staffing shortages of various types of healthcare workers in the United States are common. In general, there is improvement in staffing levels when there is more concern about the economy which encourages many earning what may be considered discretionary income to return to work. Of course, much has been written about how the COVID-19 pandemic led to healthcare professionals, particularly nursing professionals, leaving the field. This has adversely affected staffing levels in our hospitals and nursing homes. Some states have passed mandatory staffing ratios but those types of mandates can only be complied with when there are staff to hire.

Even though I have been generally aware of the struggle and competition among health care providers for sufficient staff for their facilities, I was still surprised by the information contained in a recent article, “Countries Raid Each Others’ Health Systems in Global Battle for Nurses,” which appeared in the Wall Street Journal on August 1, 2023. I think everyone should read this article but you will only have access if you are a Wall Street Journal subscriber.

It begins:

A global shortage of healthcare workers is setting off a bruising worldwide battle for talent as rich countries raid other nations’ medical systems for staff to care for their aging populations. The competition has helped countries such as the U.S. and Australia replace some nurses who quit in record numbers during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. But it is also leaving hospitals in developing countries and some wealthier nations such as the U.K. worse off, as they lose staff to countries offering bigger paychecks.

Another article published in July in Forbes stated that 16% of nursing professionals in the U.S. are from other countries.

How might this issue affect you or your family members?

Poorer countries are taking more aggressive steps to prevent wealthier countries from “poaching” their medical and healthcare staff. In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a list earlier this year of 55 countries, 37 or which are in Africa, requesting member nations to discontinue recruitment of medical personnel from those countries. According to the article, the WHO reports that “more than 70 countries have introduced laws in recent years to make it easier to hire health workers from abroad.” In response, some poorer countries are considering legislation and other means of making recruitment from outside their countries more difficult. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily affect foreign healthcare workers trying to leave their countries for better paying, less difficult environments.

It would be insensitive to ignore the collective pain of those poorer countries who are losing trained staff to wealthier nations. Again, according to the article, many of the poorer countries have just 15 health workers per 10,000 population compared to 148 per 10,000 in higher income countries. But the purpose of our sharing this information is to remind our readers that the U.S. has relied heavily on foreign healthcare professionals and that reliance may become more problematic. As a result, our next video, “When a Loved One is an Inpatient,” will suggest ways you can help optimize the experience of a loved one’s hospital or nursing home stay, particularly when staffing levels might be affected.

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