Lynch: Nursing Has Always Been Tough, but Now It's Even Harder
Monday, April 26, 2021 | 0
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's incidence rate of work injuries (cases per 10,000 workers) for nurses is 12.7; for all other industries, it’s 3.8.
Moreover, 40.8% of all nurse injuries involve physically dealing with patient needs, like moving, turning and lifting, resulting in the highest rate of sprains and strains of all professions.
That nurses experience high rates of injuries is nothing new. Lynch Ryan’s very first client (the year was 1984) was a community hospital where injuries to nurses caused the hospital’s workers’ compensation insurance experience to be nearly three times worse than its peers in Massachusetts.
We solved that by creating the concept of modified duty, returning injured employees to work with physician-specified physical restrictions prior to complete recovery.
What is less well known is that America’s health care workers, principally nurses, are victims of violence in the workplace at three times the rate of all other industries, including manufacturing and construction. Among registered nurses, what the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) calls “violent events” make up 12.2% of all occupational injuries; for all other industries it’s 4.2%.
Clearly, nursing has been a challenging profession since the time of Florence Nightingale.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made things even worse. A new Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll reveals roughly three out of 10 health care workers are considering leaving the profession, and more than half report being “burned out” due to the overwhelmingly horrific year they’ve just spent trying, and often failing, to save the lives of COVID patients.
Couple this potential decrease in health care workers with the BLS’s projection (as of April 9) that health care jobs will be the fastest-growing segment of the economy from 2019 to 2029:
Employment in health care occupations is projected to grow 15% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations, adding about 2.4 million new jobs. Health care occupations are projected to add more jobs than any of the other occupational groups. This projected growth is mainly due to an aging population, leading to greater demand for health care services.
So we were already facing a future serious shortage of health care professionals. Now, the pandemic threatens to thin the ranks even more.
Despite this, enrollment in baccalaureate nursing programs increased nearly 6% in 2020, to 250,856, according to preliminary results from an annual survey of 900 nursing schools by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. In order to hit the BLS projection of 2.4 million new jobs, nursing enrollment will have to grow at this rate every year.
That is a tall order.
Meanwhile, occupational injuries, violent events and, now, illnesses due to the pandemic will continue to plague the health care sector.
Try as I might, I have been unable to find any kind of cohesive national strategy to confront and deal with this looming health care catastrophe.
Just another example of our sweeping a coming disaster under the rug for posterity to trip over.
Tom Lynch is a principal with Lynch Ryan & Associates, a Massachusetts-based employer consulting firm. This column was reprinted with his permission from his Workers' Comp Insider blog.