Nurse shortage strains West Michigan hospitals

Kent County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — West Michigan hospitals are feeling the effects of a national shortage of nurses.

Health care providers are adding incentives to bring in new employees and nursing colleges are trying to keep up with demand.

Jennifer Gonzalez, the chief human resources officer with the newly renamed University of Michigan Health-West, formerly Metro Health, says the hospital in Wyoming is offering additional compensation.

“It’s a very competitive market right now,” Gonzalez said. “We have sign-on bonuses for nursing staff ranging from $5,000 for most of our nursing positions as well as up to $10,000 for those that are in significantly harder-to-fill shifts.”

The health system is expanding and has about 70 open nursing positions.

“This is not a short-term problem and one of the challenges is that the nursing schools are having trouble keeping up with even the demand for the hospitals that have a need for positions,” Gonzalez said.

Dr. Lola Coke, the acting dean of Grand Valley State University’s Kirkhof College of Nursing, says the school is training as many nurses as possible.

“There’s going to be 500,000 nurses slated to retire by 2022,” Coke said.

The college is seeing strong interest from students even with the challenges being amplified by the pandemic.

“Burnout levels are really, really high and levels of satisfaction are really low. There’s a lot of moral distress. Nurses aren’t able to practice the way they want to practice,” Coke said.

Coke said that with many baby boomers reaching their golden years, the need for nurses will continue to grow. Additionally, the health care system will need to change to respond to having fewer nurses.    

“They’re working more overtime, they have higher patient care loads and certainly it begs the opportunity for all of us to take a look at new health care delivery models in different health care environments,” Coke said.

University of Michigan Health-West says it tries to work with employees as much as possible on required overtime.

“It is a very long-term problem that is not going to have an easy solution, so all that we can do is to say thank you to our nurses and to our techs and to our sterile processing teams and all of our support teams that are helping every day,” Coke said.

As far as the impact vaccine requirements will have on staffing levels, the hospital says its too early to say if that will be a significant factor.

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