To say these past 18 months have been a whirlwind is an understatement. Vaccines provided a glimmer of light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, but we are now thrown into an entirely different reality. At the beginning of the pandemic, healthcare systems were battling Covid-19 without adequate PPE, resources and staffing. But now Covid-19 is not entirely to blame, and healthcare leaders are battling a triple threat on their health system operations.
Because of the pandemic, workers across all industries are doing a personal and professional introspective. With 9 million open jobs in the United States right now, workers have options, and the turnover tsunami is real. According to a survey by Korn Ferry, 82% of professionals plan to quit their job over the next six months, with 31% of them saying they would quit without another job lined up.
And the healthcare workforce is in the eye of the storm. We entered the pandemic with an already strained healthcare system and a 9% RN vacancy rate. As Covid-19 cases surged, contingent workers were called upon in mass volume to subsidize core staff across the nation. Travel clinicians went from hotspot to hotspot, uprooted their lives at the end of each contract and quickly acclimated to new care environments. When vaccines became available, they mobilized to support mass vaccination efforts.
This August, we enter the 17th month since the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a global pandemic. While many restrictions have been lifted and the larger community has enjoyed a bit of normalcy, there has been no normalcy for our healthcare workforce. When vaccinations helped to decrease Covid-19 cases and beds began to open up in the ICU and ER, hospitals resumed surgical services to work through the backlog of deferred surgeries. Aya Healthcare reports that travel OR RN demand has increased steadily with 1,872 open jobs as of August 16, 2021, which is 204% higher than the pre-Covid average. More surgical procedures create downstream impacts. The number of patients needing overnight stays increased, driving higher demand for ICU and MS RN specialties in addition to OR RNs.
As the Covid-19 delta variant is driving the current third wave of Covid-19 patients into hospital systems, the healthcare workforce is tired and burnt out. In a McKinsey survey, 22% of nurses indicated they may leave their current positions providing direct patient care, and 60% of those said they were more likely to leave since the pandemic began. Insufficient staffing, workload and emotional toll are cited as the main factors. Nurses are joining the Turnover Tsunami. Careers in pharmaceutical, telehealth, insurance and education are some of the growing career options that nurses are exploring away from bedside care.
The triple threat — Turnover Tsunami, fourth wave due to delta variant and pandemic burnout — is further exacerbating the supply and demand imbalance in healthcare systems. Current nursing travel demand is the highest we have seen throughout the pandemic, with demand 35% higher than the peak during the winter season. What remains to be seen is how the new and ever-changing vaccine mandates will impact the available workforce. This highly competitive staffing environment, aptly referred to as “the Hunger Games of nursing with hospitals fighting for resources,” will continue for the foreseeable future.
Healthcare leaders must continue to remain flexible and adopt best practices to secure available talent today. Leveraging the strategies that were successful during the earlier waves of the pandemic, such as expedited clinical screening, truncated compliance requirements and more, will bring clinicians to the bedside quicker.