When COVID-19 first struck the U.S., it sucked up the supply of masks and PPE gear, then maxed-out hospital bed space.
The latest virus-provoked shortages now include available healthcare workers themselves — and respiratory therapists top the list of most in-demand temporary healthcare professionals, according to the latest survey from AMN Healthcare.
“The widespread use of temporary allied healthcare professionals signals an emerging shortage of these workers,” Robin Johnson, divisional president with staffing solution provider AMN, noted in a statement, adding that he is seeing allied healthcare professions follow “the same pattern of labor shortages prevalent in nursing and medicine.”
AMN surveyed 159 hospitals and other facilities and found that fully 96% have used temp-allied health professionals in the last year.
Next most in-demand workers after respiratory therapists, included: laboratory technologists, radiologic technologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech pathologists.
Almost 75% of healthcare facilities are using temps, in most cases to cover while they seek full-time workers. The high figure underscores just how volatile the modern market is for the skilled healthcare employees.
Institutions are fighting massive burnout in their staffs due to the COVID-19 overload. Bureau of Labor statistics indicate that almost 590,000 healthcare workers quit in September 2021 — a record setting 35% voluntary attrition rate, according to AMN.
To keep functioning, organizations have turned to temp workers.
“Without the presence of laboratory technologists, imaging technologists, and other allied professionals, the tests and data required to conduct medical procedures and treatments backlogs, and the entire process can slow to a halt,” Johnson observed.
The latest COVID-19 Omicron variant is making existing staffing challenges much worse, according to some veteran frontline medical workers.
“People keep talking about hospitals not having room, but that’s not always the issue,” Jason Harrison, 43, a 14-year registered nurse, told NBC News recently
. “We could have 25 people waiting to come in, and we try utilizing every space we have, but sometimes we have to decide to close areas of the emergency room.”
The reason, he told the news organizations, is that they have run out of nurses.
“There are colleagues that either have COVID-19, had COVID-19 or are not passing the [hospital’s] screening, which monitors symptoms or, at the least, exposure,” Harrison said. “It’s pretty dynamic, and we’re definitely not able to operate at our fullest.”
The staffing shortages have been reflected
in a rise in wages and a 15% year-over-year drop in hospital operating margins, according to the November 2021, edition of Syntellis Performance Trends.
Top in-demand respiratory therapists, for instance, saw hourly wages climb 11.5% from the year earlier — more than triple the 3.7% rise seen by physical therapists.
Steve Wasson, EVP and general manager of data and intelligence solutions at Syntellis, says these current trends are not sustainable for the nation’s hospitals, health systems and physician groups, due to new variants and another potential surge. "These findings and trends suggest that organizations are likely to encounter challenges with expenses, both labor and supplies, in the coming months, putting pressure on margins and profitability. This could limit organizations from other types of needed investments," he told HCB News in December.