Baytown Sun: Coming off COVID, nursing workforce needs resuscitation

By: Mark McKenzie

The dedication, professionalism and commitment from nurses during the raging pandemic is for the most part, indisputable. But if we stay the course on which we presently find ourselves, there will be a dangerous void in the health care delivery system.

There will be far too few nurses and certainly not enough to keep up with health complications of aging baby boomers and a broader population of those with chronic conditions.

The nursing workforce shortage was dire before the pandemic and we have now in Texas and the rest of the nation reached a tipping point. Something has to give.

Burnout, mental health stresses, long hours to fill understaffed health care settings have all contributed to the unsettling projection that 60,000 nurses in Texas will leave the profession by the end of this decade. This disruption in the nursing profession is pervasive.

From nursing school faculty aging out through retirement or leaving for a clinical practice which pays much more, to nursing schools with less than robust pipelines graduating new generations of nurses — this workforce shortage is a crisis that will impact all of us.

In this graduation season, nursing schools all over the country will hand out diplomas and state nursing boards will give licensing certifications to those who pass the NCLEX licensing exam — the most important test nursing students will take before entering the workforce.

Consider that nationally, NCLEX pass rates have been trending lower during the COVID-19 pandemic. Data from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing show the national average first-time pass rate at 79.23% last year, down from 83.51% in 2019, indicating all the factors that result from nearly three years of a pandemic statistically bear the impact. We can take some encouragement that Texas’ pass rate — for a little more than 5,000 test takers – landed at nearly 85 percent.

Getting nurses past the academic finish line is only the beginning. A recent analysis published in Health Affairs reported that younger nurses are leaving the profession earlier than past trends show. The generational bookends in the nursing profession are threatening our ability to build and sustain a workforce pipeline bolstered by experienced faculty that can successfully onramp nurse graduates into safe patient care.

I appeal to the greater Houston area community to encourage our high school students from all walks of life to consider the profession of nursing — a recession-proof career that leaves a meaningful lasting legacy.

This call to join the ranks of nursing cannot just come with a “please.” In long-term care, where I have worked for years, we are largely dependent on public funding — Medicaid and Medicare.  Historically underfunded, the Texas Medicaid rate does not pay the actual cost of care per patient per day. Skilled nursing care providers constantly struggle to compete with higher wages in other health care settings and higher wages in other sectors. We also know that the younger nurses are more aware of striking a work-life balance and resist long hours for little pay. Our health care system has to recognize that and find a way to accommodate that need and therefore, keep our nurses in their jobs. We have to make nursing education affordable and provide for hybrid curriculum models that allow for flexibility and diversity in the student population.

Our seniors love our nurses. Our nurses were the closest people to family when COVID transmissions suspended visitation. Nursing is personal. It is intimate. It can be life changing for the nurse and the patients who encounter them.

Nursing is a calling.

I challenge our community and the state to heed the call.

Mark McKenzie is the founder of Focused Post Acute Care Partners that operates skilled nursing facilities throughout Texas including three in Baytown and one in Houston.


Read this full Article on the Baytown Sun here