At a March 15 convening led by the National Academy of Medicine, AACN President Beth Wathen was one of four leaders on a keynote panel moderated by U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy.
Speaking to an audience of healthcare leaders including nurses, physicians, administrators and chief executives, Wathen highlighted inappropriate staffing, unhealthy work environments, and compensation disparities for nurses as ongoing issues exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Acute and critical care nurse staffing has deteriorated to a point that in many locations is dire,” Wathen said. “In consistent reports from nurses in our community, staffing was marginal at best pre-COVID. There is a point past which safe care simply cannot be delivered.
“We’ve never before seen nursing, and therefore healthcare, in a crisis of this magnitude. If we embrace this crisis as an opportunity and work together, we have an unprecedented chance to transform our system and begin to put practices in place to ensure this dire situation does not happen again.”
Wathen suggested the unequal compensation practices between permanent staff and contracted nurses has caused tension between colleagues. “Now is the time to authentically look at fair, flexible, equitable and transparent compensation packages for loyal and dedicated staff to avoid this rift in the future and to stop the current exodus of clinicians from the acute care environment,” she said.
Nurse staffing and the work environment need to be addressed in order to improve patient outcomes, Wathen added: “This is not an either-or, rather it is a both-and situation. An assessment and tracking of the health of the work environment should be mandatory.”
In response to a question posed by Wathen, Dr. Murthy acknowledged that trust needs to be restored between healthcare workers and administrators: “There are so many healthcare institutions in our country that don’t have our front-line health workers represented adequately in rooms where decisions are being made.”