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'It definitely took a toll on our nurses:' More than 22% of nursing positions in Ky. remain unfilled

nursing shortage
Posted at 5:30 PM, Sep 29, 2022

FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — More than 22% of nursing positions in Kentucky hospitals remain unfilled, according to the Kentucky Hospital Association.

On Thursday, the group presented the results of its 2022 Workforce Survey. The numbers submitted by hospitals across Kentucky point to one thing - a serious staffing shortage.

"The Commonwealth’s hospitals are facing the most critical staffing shortage in recent history," said Nancy Galvagni, president of the Kentucky Hospital Association.

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According to the survey results, there are 13,423 vacancies in Kentucky hospitals. 5,391 of those opening are registered nurse and licensed practical nurse positions. Of the registered nurse vacancies, 53% are in medical/surgery, critical care, and emergency departments.

The COVID-19 pandemic played a role in the shortage, according to Galvagni.

"It definitely took a toll on our nurses, and we had some nurses retire," she said. "We had nurses leave the profession because of covid."

The results also show a shortage of experienced nurses. 60% of Kentucky's hospital nurses are between 21 and 40 years old. 14% of Kentucky's registered nurses are also nearing retirement, according to the survey.

In addition to nursing vacancies, hospitals report staffing shortages in respiratory therapy, laboratories, environmental services, social work, and food services.

KHA says hospitals are now spending significantly more on retaining nurses and paying for contract labor.

According to the survey, in 2019, Kentucky hospitals paid $88 million for contract labor, like traveling nurses. In 2022, they are projected to pay $979.6 million. So in nearly three years, the total dollars spent on traveling nurses increased by 1,014%.

Premium pay for nurses also increased by 643%, according to the KHA. In 2019, Kentucky hospitals paid $50.3 million. In 2022, they are projected to pay $371.5 million.

"Sign-on bonuses, bonuses if you work extra hours - I mean, the pay is definitely there," said Galvagni.

In addition, hospitals are providing incentives to recruit new people into the industry. Some hospitals are now offering sign-on bonuses, raises, extra overtime, tuition reimbursement, and flexible schedules.

"Our hospitals are looking at flexible scheduling - making it more appealing to younger people that have children. Looking at maybe a school schedule," said Galvagni. "So, we are very open. The hospitals are trying to do everything they can think of."

“We are working with the state’s colleges, universities, and high schools to expand programs and educate more professionals," she added.

Hospital leaders worry that staffing shortages are at an unsustainable level, which could ultimately impact patients.

“We’re seeing this scenario play out in other states,” said Mike Sherrod, the CEO of TriStar Greenview Regional Hospital. “Hospitals across the country are reducing their services and some are even closing their doors due to labor shortages and skyrocketing costs. We need to prevent this from happening in Kentucky. Our citizens deserve to have access to the high-quality care they’ve come to expect from our state’s hospitals."