Healthcare burnout was identified as a crisis before the pandemic, and this pandemic was the last straw. A recent survey of nurses across the U.S. has found that up to 90% are considering leaving the field by the end of 2022. For those who responded to the survey, burnout is the number-one-reason given by 72% of seasoned nursing staff as to why they plan on leaving field. Other issues cited include the lack of communication from upper management, resentment from staff regarding the use of traveler nurses who are getting paid far more and are at times less competent, and the sense that management sees them as a resource rather than critical staff in healthcare. In addition, independently, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that 500,000 seasoned nurses will retire between now and the end of 2022, creating a shortage of 1.1 million nurses.
The continued loss of personnel compounds the pressure on those who remain, with increases in the patient/nurse ratios. But since the loss of personnel isn’t limited to nursing staff, many nurses are also expected to clean rooms, perform clerical work, and deal with broken information systems.
The use of the LEAN, ‘just in time’ supply chain theory applied to industrial work, has been applied to healthcare. In fact, LEAN is taught in continuing education credit courses for clinical laboratory scientists. LEAN essentially treats the human in the system as part of a machine. Management’s goal is to make sure the nurse, the clinical lab scientist, and the facilities worker are working every second they’re on the clock. They are part of the “health industry.” That very phrase identifies the problem. Healthcare is organized as an industry to produce profit rather than a service responding to human beings’ needs. This has led to the reduction of staff to a number that on paper appears sufficient to do the work, but this calculation fails to consider that these are human beings dealing with other human beings who often are afraid and in pain. LEAN never considers that healthcare workers need breaks to recover from the emotional impact of the job they’ve taken on.
When nursing shortages occurred in the past, positions were filled with recent nursing school graduates. Typically, 188,000 new nurses graduate from nursing schools each year, but by their second year in the profession, 33% leave the job due to burnout, according to information from the nursing agency IntelyCare. Now these schools can’t possibly keep up with the loss of nursing staff.
Numerous studies have shown that increased patient load increases hospital readmissions, nosocomial infections (ones that occur in the hospital itself) and mortality.
We all deserve to be treated like human beings: patients and healthcare workers. We should not be parts of the profit-making machine. This is a broken system, begging for a human revolt.