New report sets off alarm about nurse shortage and patient care in Nebraska

By: - April 25, 2023 8:14 pm

Hands-on learning at the University of Nebraska Medical College, northern division, in Norfolk, Nebraska. (Courtesy of the University of Nebraska)

OMAHA — Nebraska is on pace to be short 5,435 nurses by 2025, according to a new study urging state investment in education, recruitment and retention.

Burnout, an aging nursing population and insufficient training funds are contributing to the struggle to fill positions and setting off an alarm about patient care, said the report by a trio of health care entities.

Jeremy Nordquist speaks during a news conference in the Nebraska State Capitol.
Jeremy Nordquist, president of the Nebraska Hospital Association (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

The three are the Nebraska Hospital Association, Nebraska Rural Health Association and Nebraska Health Care Workforce Collaborative.

“Our hospitals in Nebraska face tremendous pressure when it comes to recruiting and retaining a stable and healthy workforce,” said NHA president Jeremy Nordquist. “This report highlights the significant gaps in nursing across the state, especially in the areas of behavioral health and critical care.”

Citing findings of the report, State Sen. Merv Riepe of Ralston has introduced a measure to increase spending on clinical training sites for nurses. The amendment to a multifaceted Health and Human Services bill asks for a total of $6 million over two fiscal years.

The hospital association said the ongoing nurse shortage not only affects the state’s physical health, but also hurts the economy because people and businesses won’t settle or stay in communities without good care.

State Sen. Merv Riepe of Ralston (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Staffing shortages also have driven up wages, the NHA said, and have led hospitals to invest “significant” resources to recruit and retain staff.

“In the face of an ongoing pandemic, such investments in labor have only exacerbated hospitals’ existing financial hardships — with over one-third of hospitals projected to be in the red by year’s end,” the report said.

Also by year’s end, the report’s authors projected a median operating margin that’s about 10% below pre-pandemic levels.

The upshot will be fundamental shifts in health care delivery that include widespread telemedicine options, the report said.

Other highlights of the “Nebraska Nursing Workforce Shortage” report: 

  • Of Nebraska’s 93 counties, 73 have less than the national average ratio of registered nurses to patients; and 66 counties have been deemed medically underserved.
  • Nine counties have no registered nurses.
  • About 3 in 10 health care workers considered leaving their profession, and about 6 in 10 said pandemic-related stress had harmed their mental health, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation/Washington Post poll.
  • Nationally, 69% of nursing schools reported that even after receiving qualified applications, students were rejected due to insufficient availability of clinical sites.
  • A top challenge for health care staffing shortages, according to a nurse survey by the American Organization for Nursing Leadership, was “emotional health and well-being of staff.”

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Cindy Gonzalez
Cindy Gonzalez

Senior Reporter Cindy Gonzalez, an Omaha native, has more than 35 years of experience, largely at the Omaha World-Herald. Her coverage areas have included business and real estate development; regional reporting; immigration, demographics and diverse communities; and City Hall and local politics.