Healthcare is a universal need. Yet, increasingly, more and more people are leaving hospitals behind, from burned-out nurses to frustrated patients. This is a worrying trend, as the population ages and the need for healthcare staff increases.

So, why are hospitals struggling? The reasons are depressing: it’s a combination of overwhelm and a lack of affordable care. To address these problems, we need to look at overhauling the system and reforming the way we provide healthcare in the United States.

Reduced Patient Numbers and the Rising Cost of Healthcare

Most people who avoid going to the hospital for a medical issue usually do so for one of two reasons:

  1. A) It’s too expensive
  2. B) They don’t live near a hospital or lack transportation

Other patients, who might come to the hospital for elective procedures, might not have the money to afford the treatments they want. The rising cost of healthcare is squeezing patients, whether they are insured or not.

Insured patients should be better off when it comes to affording healthcare, at least in theory. However, deductibles and copays, on top of the high cost of premiums, means that even insured patients can’t always afford the health services they need. Additionally, many insurance policies are not comprehensive enough to meet the needs of the average patient, especially those with complex and expensive healthcare needs.

How Increased Costs Burden Hospitals

Hospitals have to balance quality patient care with financial constraints. Rising costs affect everyone, especially when insurance companies bargain with healthcare providers to lower their own costs. Between 2019 and 2022, hospital operating costs grew by a staggering 17.5%.

New equipment, staffing costs, and other expenses can make it difficult for hospitals to provide affordable services. As higher costs turn patients away, hospitals have to make difficult choices about spending, which can lead to reduced services and staffing, increasing the burden on the remaining staff.

Overwhelmed and Overworked: The State of Modern Nursing

Nurses have stressful jobs; there’s no getting around it. Caring for people who are sick and injured is challenging and exhausting, even on a normal day. The last few years, however, have been anything but normal.

Many nurses today are experiencing trauma and burnout in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, hospitals were overwhelmed with patients, many of whom ultimately died. Nurses were frequently working with inadequate PPE (personal protective equipment), putting themselves and their families at risk to help others.

The prolonged stress and trauma of working under these conditions have put many nurses on the verge of quitting. Worse, the more nurses that quit, the harder life becomes for the remaining nursing staff at hospitals around the country. Low staffing levels lead to increased patient loads, compounding stress and making it more difficult to provide proper patient care.

Nurses who can’t get adequate rest due to overwork and overwhelm might notice that their health and well-being suffer. Over time, chronic stress can lead to physical and mental health problems that push people out of the profession.

Underpaid and Undervalued: The Challenge of Retaining Healthcare Staff

Even as the cost of healthcare services has increased, healthcare compensation has struggled to keep up. Wage stagnation has been an ongoing issue in the healthcare industry, leading to workers in the field being underpaid, even as inflation increases living expenses.

Many people have the perception that healthcare workers make excellent salaries. While this can be true, especially for physician specialists, other healthcare workers are frequently underpaid and undervalued. With the risks and hard work involved in hospital work, many people are leaving these posts for other work opportunities. Switching industries can sometimes provide better salaries with improved work-life balance.

When people are overworked and underpaid, they start to feel undervalued and resentful. This is especially true in underfunded hospitals, where staff members have increased responsibilities, but often get lower salaries. This dissatisfaction is contributing to hospital closures, especially in rural areas. Small and rural hospitals can’t compete in providing adequate compensation, making it increasingly difficult for them to provide a healthy work environment where people feel valued.

Overall, there’s a shortage of healthcare workers, which should raise wages. However, as hospitals fight for survival, they expect more from their workers as wages stagnate and responsibilities for healthcare staff increase.

What Can Be Done to Improve the Hospital Crisis?

The problems facing U.S. hospitals are daunting and downright depressing. We need hospitals if we want to ensure that the entire population can access modern, state-of-the-art care. So what can be done to address the hospital crisis and bring both patients and workers back?

Healthcare system reforms will be key to improving working conditions and keeping the cost burden in check for patients. The first step is to address the root causes of rising healthcare costs. What can be done to minimize the cost to patients and ensure that healthcare staff are paid fair wages? Reform will need to involve policies that help to improve affordability and accessibility all over the country.

Prioritizing healthcare worker well-being, especially for nurses will be critical. Already, more nurses than ever before are planning to retire as the Baby Boomers age. When these nurses leave, the workload and stress will get even worse for those who must cope with staffing shortages, causing even more nurses to leave the profession.

Investments in mental health support and burnout prevention will be key. So will ensuring that healthcare workers are well-compensated for the work they do. Public perception of the value that healthcare workers provide has been slipping, and more needs to be done to reverse this trend. Workers who take on crisis healthcare work especially need to be well-compensated.

Working Toward Positive Change

Although the current state of hospitals is disheartening, it’s critical that we work toward positive change. Hospitals are a foundational resource in our community, and we need to make sure that both patients and staff are getting what they need when they walk through the doors.

Healthcare reform is a daunting task, no question about it. But as we move forward from the pandemic and brace for what lies ahead, we need to address the current crisis and help hospitals serve their intended purpose: helping people and saving lives.

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