It’s been a busy two days for thousands of nurses in Austin, Texas. They turned out on Monday and Tuesday as part of Texas Nurse Day at the Capitol, an event organized by the Texas Nurses Association. It’s more than a protest. Instead, the union is taking over sections of the state capitol to meet with lawmakers to develop policies that will curtail the state’s ongoing staffing shortage.
Current statistics show Texas is facing a shortage of 20,000 RNs, an estimate that nearly tripled during the pandemic.
Some 600 nurses participated in the event. Both days were filled with events designed to educate nurses on the extent of the problem. On Monday, the group conducted work sessions and panel discussions on various nursing issues followed by a luncheon. The group identified opportunities where nurses can influence healthcare policy and established guidelines for advocating for themselves and others on social media.
Today, the group met with lawmakers to discuss various policies that will address the nurse shortage, workplace violence, and other issues the union says is pushing providers out of the profession.
According to a survey of over 300 hospitals in Texas conducted by the Texas Center for Nursing Workforce Studies, the number of vacancies for licensed vocational nurses has quadrupled over the last few years and pediatric ICU nurses have been the hardest to find.
Some hospitals have had to reassign physical therapists and respiratory therapists to help the overburdened nurses, while others have changed their nurse-patient ratios.
“You’re seeing hospitals close floors and units in their facilities – so now the community is suffering if they don’t have a certain surgery center that is no longer open, or a certain floor is no longer open. And patients have to travel even further to get this care,” said Dan Pollock, CEO of Advantis Medical, during one of the panel discussions.
The report from TCNWS shows that many RNs left their jobs to earn more money as travel nurses before burnout forced them to quit the field altogether.
“Through that, burnout increased. Nurse-to-patient ratios got stretched and we saw clinicians completely leave the bedside, which further made this problem even more acute,” said Pollock. “What’s happening now, as census has somewhat normalized and dropped, we’ve seen demand for travel nursing also drop. And pay packages have declined. We’re seeing nurses go back and accept staff jobs and reapproach the original facility they left. But I think that doesn’t mean that the staffing demand at these facilities has been met.”
The nurses at the event said the situation will only change if the state legislature works with companies in the industry to change the management style. Lawmakers in the state have already introduced several bills that would increase funding for nurse education and create incentives for nurses to work in underserved areas.
But the union said its members want higher pay, better compensation, and more experienced providers training new nurses.
“What’s really powerful is there’s a lot of nurses that are currently practicing at the bedside that are here and present, so I think that’s going to be great for legislators to know and learn about the challenges we face every day,” said Mary Bitullo, a nurse and the board director for the TNA.