Over 22% of nursing positions in Kentucky hospitals are unfilled across the state according to a report released today by the Kentucky Hospital Association (KHA) during a press conference in the state capitol rotunda. That’s over 5,000 registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) needed in Kentucky today. The shortage of healthcare professionals available across the Commonwealth, in addition to an unprecedented rise in staffing costs, could cause a crisis in the access Kentuckians have to the healthcare they need.
The data comes from the 2022 KHA Workforce Survey, an annual survey of hospitals throughout the state regarding the status of Kentucky’s hospital workforce. This year’s survey had the highest level of participation in recent history with 100% of acute care hospitals submitting data.
In addition to a high vacancy rate, or the percentage of vacant positions over a specific period of time, hospitals are experiencing high RN turnover rates, or the rate at which employees are hired or leave their position, also at 22% statewide. These rates are not surprising given the current economic climate in America; however, in other industries, the numbers do not impact access to lifesaving care.
The crisis is not just in the nursing field. Every area of the hospital is impacted by shortages especially respiratory therapy, laboratories, environmental services, social work, and food services.
Hospitals also submitted data to KHA on the rising costs of retaining current employees and hiring contract labor or travel nurses to fill the open positions and ensure Kentucky patients continue to receive quality care. In 2022, Kentucky’s hospitals are projected to spend 1,014% more dollars on contract labor than in 2019. For premium pay, which includes things like overtime and bonuses, the cost is rising 643% during the same time period ― an unsustainable rate of growth.
With an additional 14.2% of hospital RNs nearing retirement age, the state must find solutions quickly to address this issue.
“We’re seeing this scenario play out in other states,” noted KHA Board Chair Mike Sherrod, who is also the Chief Executive Officer of TriStar Greenview Regional Hospital. “Hospitals across the country are reducing their services and some are even closing their doors due to labor shortages and skyrocketing costs. We need to prevent this from happening in Kentucky. Our citizens deserve to have access to the high quality care they’ve come to expect from our state’s hospitals.”
Many hospitals are providing incentives to recruit new professionals and retain the ones currently employed. Some are offering sign-on bonuses, raises, extra overtime, premium bonuses, tuition reimbursement, and flexibility.
“KHA and its member hospitals are committed to finding new ways to retain our dedicated healthcare professionals and attracting more Kentuckians to the rewarding field of healthcare,” said KHA President Nancy Galvagni. “We are working with the state’s colleges, universities, and high schools to expand programs and educate more professionals. We look forward to working with our elected officials to address this crisis head on and ensure every citizen in the Commonwealth retains access to the high quality care our hospitals provide.”