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“The fewer chefs a restaurant has, the fewer meals it can serve.” Without enough staff in the kitchen, a restaurant won’t be able to meet the needs of its customers. That staffing sentiment rings true for almost every industry, and with healthcare facilities, it’s no exception.

Difficulties in hiring and keeping staff are not new problems for rural hospitals. Unfortunately, the Coronavirus pandemic has only added to this serious issue. Many medical centers across the country have closed down, and those that aren’t considered understaffed will soon be if there are any Covid-19 surges in their area. It’s gotten so serious that hospitals in nearly 40 states have reported staffing shortages; if case counts rise again, almost every state will have understaffed health systems.

As you can expect, hospital staff shortages have led to countless problems for both care providers and their patients. The consequences of this troubling situation are far-reaching and encompass aspects of the industry in ways that many haven’t realized. For more insight into the staffing shortage crisis of rural hospitals, here are some of the problems it’s creating and why it’s happening.

Fewer Number of Patients Can Be Admitted

Hospitals are nothing without the doctors, nurses, and other staff that make care possible. So what happens when there aren’t enough hands on deck? The answer is simple: fewer patients can be admitted. Unfortunately, many rural communities in the United States have had to learn this firsthand. More than half of rural hospitals have significantly lowered their patient capacity because there aren’t enough nurses available.

To accommodate the lack of staff, hospitals in urban areas have had to spread themselves thin across multiple departments. This has resulted in care providers switching roles to keep the hospital afloat. Some staff have even had to take on multiple duties at once and work longer shifts. 

They Have to Offer Fewer Services

With so many staff redeployments taking place in rural hospitals, certain functions have been abandoned in favor of others. This has caused many hospitals in rural areas to offer fewer care services to their communities. In fact, over a quarter of these care facilities have had to suspend certain services so their staff can devote time elsewhere. 

Some of these locations have dropped their routine Coronavirus testing, which could prove to be dangerous during a Covid-19 surge. Although, in most cases, the eliminated services are surgery-related in nature. These suspensions in service have forced patients to travel farther for the care they were once able to receive close to home.

Why Are Hospital Staff Shortages Happening in Rural Areas?

While the pandemic and Covid-19 surges are the primary reason for staffing shortages, the causes extend much further than that. For one, many nurses are reaching retirement age. The onset of the pandemic also resulted in many leaving their jobs sooner.

As anyone in the healthcare industry would tell you, stress is a major contributor to hospital staffing shortages. Having to work long hours, care for a larger number of patients, and do it all with the fear of contracting the virus has resulted in burnout. This stress is even more noticeable in rural settings where staffing shortages are more prevalent than in urban hospitals, compounding the burnout considerably. It’s a vicious cycle.

Given how stressed and overworked healthcare workers are, many don’t believe they’re paid enough for all the time and effort they devote to their jobs. As a result, a large percentage of staff have left the healthcare industry in pursuit of new careers. Rural areas are hit even harder by this financial problem, as they, on average, make around less than their urban counterparts.

What Can Be Done?

Given how serious the staffing shortage crisis has become, many rural hospitals have been looking for ways to solve it or, at the very least, lessen the impact. Some have offered increased sign-on bonuses, while others are bringing nursing school students on board faster.

One way your facility can better manage itself amidst a staffing shortage is by switching to digital software like MedTrainer. We offer a range of virtual programs and systems to help streamline workflow for healthcare workers and administrative staff. From compliance checklists to MedTrainer courses, we’ll make managing your hospital easier than ever. Contact us today for a demonstration.