Health care report says Arizona will have the nation’s biggest nursing shortage in 2025

Feb 15, 2024, 4:25 AM | Updated: 7:15 am

A woman checks liquids in a nursing home....

A recent report said Arizona is on track to have the nation's biggest nursing shortage in 2025. (AP File Photo)

(AP File Photo)

PHOENIX — Arizona will have 28,100 fewer registered nurses than it needs next year, according to the National Center for Health Workforce Analysis. If that prediction comes true, the state would have the worst nursing shortage in the nation in 2025.

It’s a huge problem, according to Heidi Sanborn, the president of the Arizona Nurses Association.

“When you don’t have nurses where they need to be to deliver care, that’s a public health crisis,” Sanborn told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Chris and Joe Show on Tuesday.

How a shortage of nurses impacts Arizonans

The lack of nurses is most acutely felt in emergency rooms and urgent care facilities, Sanborn said.

People who need medical care can end up in stretchers in the hallway, waiting for hospital beds for hours on end, she said.

Overcrowding in emergency rooms can become so severe that nurses can’t get through the door, Sanborn added.

“If I have an emergency, whether I’m driving myself or in an ambulance, I can be diverted to another facility, potentially hours away if I live in a rural area,” Sanborn said. “That’s the scope of the problem.”

Nursing shortages can have deadly consequences. Hospitals with high patient-to-nurse ratios experience higher patient mortality rates than those with more equitable numbers, according to the National Library of Medicine.

Plus, nurses who have too many patients to juggle experience burnout, Sanborn said. The overwhelming workload can lead them to quit, thus perpetrating the ongoing shortage.

“We’re stretched very thin oftentimes at the bedside because of those workforce vacancies,” she said. “Workforce conditions are a really big part of the stress that nurses are under.”

Why does Arizona have a nursing shortage?

In addition to overwhelming workloads, low pay and workforce violence can also repel nurses from the profession, Sanborn said.

“We have nurses who are being threatened to walk to their car and watch their back cause ‘I’m gonna get you because you didn’t take care of my family member,'” she said. “That is a really scary place to be as a nurse.”

Nurses often have to ask themselves if they’re willing to sacrifice their physical safety and mental well-being for the sake of helping patients, Sanborn said.

Burnout has always been a problem in health care, but Arizona is unique for various reasons, she added.

“This has been brewing for a really long time,” Sanborn said. “One of them is the age of our population, the movement of our population when we look at snowbirds coming in the state.”

Arizona health care providers were bursting at the seams with the influx of patients during the winter, she said.

Not only that, but the state’s nursing workforce is also aging, Sanborn said. As the job becomes more demanding, many older nurses are stepping away to less demanding roles.

“Arizona has a lot of opportunities for nurses and they’re not all in the hospital system where we need them sometimes the most,” she said.

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Health care report says Arizona will have the nation’s biggest nursing shortage in 2025