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Michigan hospitals facing a severe labor shortage, warns Michigan Health and Hospital Association

Eddie Griffith
Michigan hospitals are facing a severe labor shortage, including nurses and support staff like direct care aides.

Hospitals in Michigan are in a severe labor crisis, according to Brian Peters, head of the Michigan Health and Hospital Association.

Peters said the pandemic has decimated nurse staffing, with many nurses quitting to take jobs with traveling nurse agencies at many times their former salaries.

Often, they can end up working at their former hospitals, side by side with nurses who stayed, which causes a big morale problem, he said. And early retirements have also cut into staffing levels.

"Now they've said, you know what? I think I've had enough and I'll call it a career now, rather than waiting," Peters said.

Direct care aides and other support staff are also leaving their hospital jobs.

"We are losing employees to McDonald's for a job that pays better and is less stressful," Peters said. "And we are incredibly limited in our ability to compete with rising wages in other industries."

That's because hospitals can't just raise their prices like fast food restaurants and grocery stores can, "because Medicare tells us what they're going to pay, as does Medicaid, all the private insurance companies," Peters explained.

Peters warned if hospitals don't get more help, the trend of hospitals having to shutter entire departments to stay afloat will get worse.

"All of the things that go into a surgical program or an obstetrics program, those get discontinued, and then you no longer have access to that sort of care in a particular community, and patients are forced to look farther and farther away for the care they need."

He said there are a number of solutions. First, Congress needs to recognize the crisis, he said, and provide more federal funding; the federal government could fast-track the immigration process for nurses and other health care workers from other countries; and he said Michigan should join the Nurse Licensure Compact so out-of-state nurses can work here.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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