Health

Kentucky was already facing a nursing shortage pre-pandemic, but the stress and strain of COVID-19 has only exacerbated the issue. 

A study from the Kentucky Nurses Association surveyed 850 nurses from the commonwealth about the challenges of working through the pandemic and possible solutions.

The study opened at the beginning of October and collected responses for two weeks.

“The purpose of the survey was to identify what is currently most important to Kentucky nurses regarding work, safety, emotional health, physical health and professional stability while confronting the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Donna Meador, president of the KNA said at a press conference Friday.

One of the first statistics that Meador presented was that 25% of surveyed nurses said they would likely be leaving their positions within the next three months.

It was not clear if that meant the respondents would be leaving health care altogether or moving to different facilities. Meador found the response concerning, nonetheless.

Travel nursing has contributed significantly to the loss of nursing staff in Kentucky. 

“We are having to hire travel nurses to replace nurses that are leaving to go travel,” said Kristin Pickerell with the Kentucky Organization of Nurse Leaders.

Travel nurses can make as much as $200 an hour which is much higher than non-travel positions.

Kentucky’s nursing shortage isn’t as dire as it is in other states. Leaders from KNA say those states are “poaching” Kentucky nurses to fulfill their own shortages.

The study found that financial concerns were a leading cause of the shortage, but not the most significant one.

“The number one rated was lack of sufficient nursing staff or heavy patient loads, and that was 73% of our 850 respondents,” Meador.

Other highly-ranked factors included not enough pay, exhaustion, concerns about transmitting COVID-19 to loved ones, lack of support staff and lack of support of managerial and administrative positions. 

Nurses have also been feeling an overall lack of support from the public, according to Delanor Manson, the chief executive officer of KNA.

“Nurses are having to change out of their scrubs before going to the grocery store,” Manson said.

Many of the participants of the press conference highlighted the overall change in public sentiment nurses have begun to notice going from “health care heroes” to being fearful to being harassed in public.

The survey also asked respondents for possible solutions to the issues causing the shortage.

“Nurses also identified financial-supportive actions to alleviate the nursing shortage: more staff to alleviate heavy patient assignments, higher pay, non-clinical staff to offload non-essential nursing tasks, financial incentives including student loan forgiveness,” Meador said.

Beyond these solutions, nurses suggested that having more say in decision-making, better mental and physical health support, along with improved public support could help with retention efforts. 

The KNA is asking for federal and state funding to support some of these retention incentives.

Breya Jones is the Breaking News Reporter for WFPL.