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Central Missouri hospitals struggle to fill nursing positions

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMIZ)

Some of the largest employers in Central Missouri are hospitals. But even with that large presence, retaining health care workers is increasingly difficult, according to a new report.

The vacancy and turnover rate for nurses in Missouri increased in the past year, according to a workforce report from the Missouri Hospital Association.

With 21 hospitals, the profile for the central region of Missouri shows 15.5% vacancy and 21.3% turnover for registered nurses. This is slightly below the state average of 19.8% vacancy and 22.1% turnover for registered nurses.

Many Missouri hospitals are having difficulty hiring and retaining staff. Capital Region Medical Center is no expectation, but Kristen Pringer said things are getting better with only 41 open nursing positions.

"It's just a matter of looking at those 41 open spots and hoping that we can make that 41 gets smaller and smaller and smaller and retain the ones we have and not just have that continuous turnover," Pringer said.

Pringer is a registered nurse and director of medical, surgical, Care Management, Inpatient Rehabilitation, Outpatient Infusion, Dialysis, Wound Care and Total Joint Program. She wears a lot of hats and oversees a lot of people.

One major reason the report cites for people leaving the health care profession is burnout. After two years of intense pandemic response, the report says people are leaving the profession for other opportunities.

"You would hear stories of nurses going home at night and not even had you can't have your kids or you can't say anything to him until you change clothes," Pringer said. "A lot of stress here and then a lot of stress we took home. And I think that that's just unprecedented in healthcare. Now what we're seeing is the downstream effects of that, because nurses are really thinking differently about what if it happens again?"

Hospitals are relying on travel nurses more, according to the report, but it cost hospitals significantly.

"Moreover, the influx of high-cost agency staff disrupted workplace cultures and resulted in hospitals’ staffing costs skyrocketing," the report reads.

Some other solutions are competitive pay, more work-life balance and checking in on staff's mental health. Heidi Lucas, director of the Missouri Nurses Association, said the number one thing nurses need is more respect.

"We have 110,000 nurses here in the state of Missouri and they need to be respected and treated as such," Lucas said. "People are working overtime hours and don't have a good work-life balance and then seeing all the things over the last few years."

Some jobs turn over more than others. Nurse assistants in Mid-Missouri turned over at 49%, according to the report. Foodservice workers and dietary aides turned over at a 50% clip.

Vacancy and turnover statewide have been on a steady increase since 2018, the report states. But for some job groups, such as RNs, the increase in turnover and vacancy started in 2020, coinciding with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Article Topic Follows: Health
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Hannah Falcon

Hannah joined the ABC 17 News Team from Houston, Texas, in June 2021. She graduated from Texas A&M University. She was editor of her school newspaper and interned with KPRC in Houston. Hannah also spent a semester in Washington, D.C., and loves political reporting.

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