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Coulee Medical Center ER and Walk-In Care

We must fix the nursing shortage

Guest Column


Last updated 4/6/2022 at 9:55am

Where did all the nurses go?

One of my family members ended up in the ER for a week after a bad fall.

The hospital we chose and its staff were wonderful in every way, but this time, one important thing was missing: an appropriate number of nurses to deliver superior care.

The nurses who were there did their best. They are working long hours and exhausting themselves and, still, the ones we met were cheerful and supportive.

There is a special place in Heaven for people in this profession.

But where did all the nurses go?

We moved our family member to a skilled nursing center last weekend, where physical therapy will hopefully restore mobility.

But that center, too, is short on nurses. By our count, there are six nurses for 200 patients — mostly elderly patients who need exceptional attention and care, but are just not getting it.

I assumed that the COVID-19 pandemic was behind the shortage and, to a degree, it is.

Though it sped up the retirement of many nurses across the country and made things worse, according to Healthline, the nursing shortage has been a challenge going back 10 years.

The greater challenge is that demand for nurses is soaring because America is getting older as millions of Baby Boomers enter their golden years.

Health reforms have also given more people access to quality health insurance, which has led to more patients at hospitals.

Currently, the average age of RNs in this country is 50 — and long hours working heavy workloads is simply burning nurses out and causing more errors in medical treatment.

For someone whose loved one needs exceptional medical care RIGHT NOW, this is a very unsettling issue.

It’s one of so many shortages of late: Empty shelves in grocery stores, cars that are way too expensive because our supply chain is a mess and airplane flights that are canceled or delayed.

This situation is not the America I’ve known most of my life.

I’ve encountered many very smart and accomplished people in the business world who solve gigantic problems and get things done to the benefit of us all.

So where are the smart people who are working on the nursing shortage?

A complex challenge requires a complex solution.

Will our federal government ever figure out how to do real immigration reform and let more nurses and physical therapists and doctors into our country?

Can’t our universities restructure and ramp up their nursing programs to bring many new talented nurses into the field?

And can’t hospitals and long-term care facilities pony up better salaries and offer flexible, non-burnout schedules that allow nurses - who generally get into this field because they want to care for people – to do their best work?

How about retention bonuses and longer vacations to sunny climates where nurses can recharge?

Hey, employers, can’t you create grants to fund nursing education? You, too, federal government.

The fact is, the more overworked the nurses are at your facility, the more medical mistakes will be made — how many massive lawsuits do you want to pay for when you can get ahead of the problem and produce a pipeline of new nursing talent?

Get creative for goodness sake.

I’m seeing firsthand how a severe and chronic nursing shortage – and a total lack of problem solving - is having a negative impact on my beloved family member.

Come on, America. We’ve got work to do.

Copyright 2022 Tom Purcell, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Tom Purcell is an author and humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Email him at


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