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Why the nursing shortage is everyone's problem

Whether you've spent a lot of time in hospitals or are one of the lucky individuals who only visits your physician's office for yearly checkups, one commonality you've doubtlessly encountered is nurses. From yearly physicals to emergency room visits, nurses play a major -- and essential -- role in health care. They are vital to the medical community, performing the bulk of smaller tasks, administering tests, caring for patients and even double-checking doctors. Indeed, there isn't enough time to list all the ways that nurses are essential in health care.

This is why the ever-growing nursing shortage is a crisis in the making. In fact, in less than a decade, researchers believe this shortage of nurses will be more than twice the size of any since the 1960s. What's causing this nurse scarcity? Perhaps more importantly, how will it affect you and your loved ones?

The nursing shortage

Despite the fact that nursing is one of the fastest-growing fields in the U.S., the high demand continues to outstrip supply. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that by 2022, there will be 1.2 million vacant nursing positions. The hows and the whys are many and varied, but researchers believe a primary driving force is the increasing age of the generation known as Baby Boomers:

  • Currently in the U.S., there are more individuals aged 65 and older than at any other point in history.
  • By 2030, one in five Americans will be a senior citizen, an increase of 75 percent.
  • By 2050, the senior population will grow to 88.5 million.

Why does this aging of the population have such an effect? Because as individuals age, the need for health care soars:

  • Approximately 80 percent of older adults have at least one chronic condition.
  • Over 65 percent of seniors have at least two chronic conditions.
  • Two-thirds of Medicare beneficiaries over age 65 have multiple chronic conditions.

The bottom line is this:  Older individuals have more chronic diseases, and people with chronic diseases need more medical care. The demand for nurses to provide this medical care is increasing drastically, and the number of people going into the nursing field just cannot keep up with this demand. How exactly, though, does that affect you and your loved ones?

The effects

When the demands on nurses are too high, they have less time to spend with each patient, along with less energy to devote to individual cases and tasks. Increased fatigue -- a result of overworking -- not only leads to burnout -- and thus, again, fewer nurses -- it can also mean a lower quality of care and a higher incidence of medical mistakes; mistakes that may range from minor to deadly. Research indicates a direct connection between insufficient nursing staff and higher rates of both hospital readmission and, more upsettingly, patient mortality.

What to do

Officials have proposed a multitude of possible solutions, ranging from financial incentives to an overhaul of the nursing staff education program to public-private partnerships and more. While these long-term strategies may or may not be successful, they do little to address the problem that is already occurring now.

While you may have pity for an overworked nurse, that doesn't make up for the fact that a health care professional's error had drastic or even fatal results for you or someone you care about. If you suffered serious illness or injury -- or worse, lost a loved one -- due to a mistake by an Arizona medical provider, there are professional resources available to fight at your side in order to help you pursue the justice you deserve and the compensation you need.