After 22 years in Kaiser San Jose, emergency room nurse Jenny Robledo thought she knew almost every one of her colleagues at South Bay Medical Center – until COVID burnout hit the healthcare industry.
“In my department,” Robledo said Friday, “staff turnover is so high that I can come to work any day, look around and say, ‘I don’t know anyone here.’
This week, thousands of Kaiser health workers in the Bay Area left their jobs to support striking engineers who are tasked with keeping Kaiser health centers running.
Workers have forced the health care giant to close some laboratories, transfer some patients and postpone some operations. But the strike is just one symbol of wider pain in the health care industry hit by the pandemic, which has no end in sight as growing stress has exacerbated staffing problems.
Kaiser said in a statement that it has hired “hundreds of nurses and other nursing team members” in Northern California in recent months, including approximately 1,800 “experienced nurses” by the end of the year, as well as 300 nurses who are due to complete the HMO residency. program.
But Kaiser also acknowledged that “staffing continues to be a problem for the entire health care system,” in particular, California faces a “severe shortage of nurses.”
The health care system in Auckland is not alone.
A September report from the UCSF Health Workforce Research Center’s Long-Term Care Research Center said the state will face a shortage of registered nurses over the next five years and the pandemic will exacerbate the situation. According to the report, the state currently needs about 40,500 nurses that it does not have, and this deficit – a gap of 13.6% – is expected to last until 2026. About 30% of the nurses in the state are over 55 years old. according to the report, many are planning to retire or quit smoking amid the stringent requirements of the pandemic.
About a quarter of registered nurses aged 55-64 said they plan to leave in the next two years, up from 12% in 2018. The report says the change is likely related to burnout and a desire to protect vulnerable family members from COVID-19. … Add to that what the report says is the reluctance of healthcare providers to hire inexperienced nurses during the pandemic and fewer graduates, in part because programs have struggled to put students in a clinical environment as COVID-19 raged. and the workers were on the front lines. struggling to keep up – and demanding better pay and working conditions.
Jessica Nunez is one of those jaded nurses. “The pandemic has worsened because many nurses have moved to other positions, quit (or retired),” said Nunez, who joined Robledo on Friday’s sympathy strike near Kaiser San Jose.
Aside from having to wear N95 masks, face masks and gowns every day, there is the exhaustion and stress of battling an invisible, deadly infectious disease that not everyone is prepared to take seriously.
“It’s definitely burnout,” Robledo said. “This hospital has gone through a lot because we were one of the epicenters of the pandemic and were fighting our own outbreak. We deal with stress at work and don’t avoid it by going home. Right now, because everything is stressful with COVID, there is no escape from it. You have to educate your patients about COVID and they have their theories, whether they believe in vaccines or COVID. Then you go home and must do the same with your family members, spouses or children. Burnout is a real phenomenon. We had a lot of people who left the nurses altogether. “
How great the impact of the personnel crisis at the local level is is not clear. Health systems in the Bay Area either did not respond, or declined to provide details on how much outside aid they bring or how much they pay, and insisted they were prepared for a possible winter surge in COVID cases.
“We have been preparing for dramatic leaps since we admitted our first two patients in February 2020, and have continually compared the number of COVID-19 patients with the number of other patients in our hospitals,” a UCSF spokesman said, adding that the number of healthcare workers health care provider has increased by almost 10% since 2020, when the pandemic began.
“We will adjust our workforce accordingly if we have a seasonal increase in the number of patients with COVID-19 or other illnesses,” said a spokesperson for the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, adding that the county “is not experiencing emergency retirements or employee leaving. from our hospitals. … “
But workers say health care providers rely on mobile nurses and short-term care and pay handsomely to get it – even as they reject union demands for higher wages and other benefits.
“They offered quite large sums of money,” said Robledo, the Kaiser’s nurse. “It was easy to find travelers in California because they pay better than other parts of the country.”
Trusted Health, a startup that recruits nurses to work in the Bay Area and elsewhere, said it sees strong demand in Northern California at prices ranging from $ 120 to $ 165.
However, hospital officials say the pandemic has hit health centers hard too. For a while, they had to abandon lucrative electoral procedures and try to stock up on masks and other protective equipment for workers.
According to the California Hospital Association, state hospitals lost more than $ 8 billion in 2020 due to the pandemic, even including federal money they received through the CARES Act. They are projected to lose up to $ 2 billion in 2021 and the operating margin will fall from 19% to 65% due to COVID-19. Kaiser posted net income of $ 6.4 billion in 2020, down about 14% from 2019.
“At the core of the negotiations is that healthcare is becoming increasingly unaffordable and wage increases account for half of our costs,” Kaiser said in a statement Friday. “The problem we are trying to solve is that if we continue to increase costs so much beyond market levels, our members will not be able to afford the service they need.”
But unions representing Kaiser workers and others say that unless the industry becomes a more desirable place to work, there won’t be enough workers to care for these patients.