The exodus of nurses and other medical professionals from New Jersey hospitals continues, and is resulting in an unprecedented staffing crisis that is impacting patient care.

Driven by exhaustion, burnout and vaccine mandates, the vacancy rates for key segments of patient care providers is evident in the latest figures released by the New Jersey Hospital Association.

A survey of hospitals around the state show an increased vacancy rate and unfilled job opening for both skilled workers and support staff.

For registered nurses, the vacancy rate increased 64%, from 8.2% in 2020 to 13.4% in 2021. The vacancy rate is a measure of vacant positions versus the current staffing levels.

The NJHA’s Center for Health Analytics, Research and Transformation (CHART) reports it is taking longer and costing more to fill healthcare jobs.

The lack of staff has forced more hospitals to ask nurses and others to work multiple shifts to cover patient needs. Not only has that cost hospitals more than $1 billion in overtime costs, it is adding to the burnout and fatigue that is driving more from the profession.

Even before the pandemic began, the state was in the midst of a nursing shortage, which has only been made worse by the ongoing health crisis.

NJHA President and CEO Cathy Bennett told the Press of Atlantic City, "COVID-19 has created an unprecedented workforce plight across the entire continuum of care."

The staffing shortage threatened to become even more dire as the deadline passed for healthcare workers to be both fully vaccinated and boosted, or be fired, under orders from Gov. Phil Murphy.

Murphy agreed to extend the deadline after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended extending the time from the final dose of COVID-19 vaccine and a booster dose.

The NJHA is proposing several measures to help deal with the staffing shortage.

  • Reinstating reciprocity for out-of-state certified nurse aides (CNAs) to be hired by N.J. long term care facilities, assisted living facilities, assisted living programs and comprehensive personal care homes.
  • Reinstating waivers permitting foreign nurses, graduate nurses and student nurses to work as CNAs under certain circumstances.
  • Allowing CNAs with expired certifications to continue working during the existence of the public health emergency and for 45 days thereafter.
  • Extending by 90 days the expiration dates for CNA certifications.

Hospitals and healthcare companies have been getting creative to solve their immediate needs. Many are hiring so-called travel nurses to help fill vacancies until full-time staff can be hired.

The Rutgers School of Nursing is also pressing its' students into service.

The newly formed Student Nurse Reserve Corps has been sending dozens of students into hospital settings to to perform tasks that require little training — answering phones and spending time with patients who needed observation, for example — to free up professional nursing staff to focus more on patient care.

Eric Scott is the senior political director and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at eric.scott@townsquaremedia.com

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