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'This could be devastating for every Kentuckian': New survey shows state's dwindling healthcare system

More than 13,000 hospital employees are needed in Kentucky right now, according to the newly released survey from the Kentucky Hospital Association.

FRANKFORT, Ky. — A new survey highlights the critical shortage Kentucky’s healthcare system is facing.

The healthcare workforce around the United States and in the commonwealth took major blows from the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, there is a shortage of about one million healthcare workers nationwide.

More than 13,000 hospital employees are needed in Kentucky right now, according to the newly released survey from the Kentucky Hospital Association (KHA).

At a press conference at the state capitol Thursday, KHA President Nancy Galvagni went over the data. She’s worried the shortage will exacerbate delays in health care and could even lead to hospital closures.

According to the survey data, there are more than 5,000 registered nurse and licensed practical nurse hospital vacancies; 53% of those missing RN's belong in emergency rooms.

"This could be devastating for every Kentuckian,” Galvagni said. "Each of us will be a patient at some point. It doesn't matter how many beds a hospital has, if they're not enough professionals to staff them."

Galvagni said education is key. She said the Kentucky Board of Nurses is working to get into high schools and colleges to show students the many career paths available in health care.

While the number of vacancies is high, Delanor Manson, president of the Kentucky Nurse's Association (KNA), said the number is actually much higher when everywhere nurses work is considered, including senior living homes, corrections facilities and more.

Manson said there are 89,000 nurses in Kentucky, and the state is short 30%. That's a nearly 27,000 windfall.

“We need to start with retaining the nurses we have,” Manson said. “That has to be priority one.”

To do that, Manson said they have to feel valued.

“Making sure that nurses are at the table when decisions are being made about staffing, as well as about patient care,” she said. “The idea that non-nurses should be making decisions about what nurses do and how patients receive care does not bode well for the nurse feeling valued and wanting to stay.”

 Manson also said more BIPOC nurses are needed. She said this year will mark the first time that nurses will be mandated to indicate their ethnicity when applying for licensure and it’ll paint a better picture of the demographics of employees.

Manson also said that there should be an easy way to come out of retirement to help out, mentioning nurse emeritus programs that have been implemented elsewhere.

Another data point in the KHA’s survey pertains to cumbersome costs. Between 2019 and 2022, the price of hiring travel nurses to fill the gaps have skyrocketed more than 450%, with projections to spend more than $900 million this year.

Galvagni said the KHA proposed that state lawmakers increase the rate of payment to hospitals for Medicaid patients.

“Any day in a Kentucky Hospital, 80% of the patients in the hospital are on a government program, Medicare or Medicaid,” Galvagni said. “And both of those government programs are not paying what it costs the hospital to treat the patients, so the hospitals are losing money.”

The KHA and KNA said, to their knowledge, no hospitals, or healthcare facilities, have closed due to lack of staffing as of now.

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