Lack of staff in Michigan hospitals: What happened and why people are leaving

This article is part of Rapid Growth's Voices of Youth series, which features content created by Kent County youth in partnership with Rapid Growth staff mentors, as well as feature stories by adult writers that examine issues of importance to local youth. In this installment, Christina Kashindi examines the staff shortage in Michigan hospitals. 

Michigan hospitals are facing a funding disaster, putting families at risk of losing access to quality health care. Businesses, health systems and universities are asking lawmakers to fix the crisis to avoid more reduction of hospital beds and health services and care. 

According to Bridge, Michigan hospitals have lost staff, taking 1,700 beds offline at times. To increase recruitment, retention and pay for temporary workers, hospital leaders say they will have spent $1 billion more in labor costs this year.

Hospitals losing beds has been a long ongoing case in the country, not just in Michigan. Though the health care industry has been trying to fix this problem, it doesn't seem to be getting better. For example, Michigan hospitals received more than $900 million in 2020 in the midst of COVID-19, which increased patient intake.

As a result of this stress, the health care industry is struggling to retain workers. Don Rewa is a former anesthesia technician who is now a home care worker at Eversana Pharmacy. For Rewa, the risk was too high.

“COVID was hard — putting all the [personal protective] equipment on, risking your own life — thinking, ‘Maybe I'm going to get sick,’ Rewa says. “A lot of people worked really hard to save people and they got burnt out.”

Michigan has been experiencing a shortage of healthcare workers for many years, with burnout being the primary reason. The pandemic just increased their stress, causing the sudden exit of many employees. As of 2023, many nurses have been working under expired contracts since 2021. The increased patient load and the trauma from COVID-19 are forcing many nurses to look away from the profession.

COVID-19 also created long waiting times in the emergency department, fewer services — especially in rural places — and an environment where it was harder to move patients to where they should be, making respiratory illnesses spread and worsening the problem.

Jennifer Clack wanted to be a registered nurse but had decided to quit after finding out the amount of time and money she would have to spend in school.
“I changed my mind about becoming a nurse, because they don’t make much money,” Clack says. “School is very expensive. If I were to become a nurse, I would get into debt for school.”

Hospitals should be prepared for the staff shortage and have a process to navigate the scarcity. This includes communicating with healthcare providers (HCP) about what they should do about the shortage, addressing HCP mental health, and finding better ways for patients to see a doctor.

Luckily, Michigan’s lawmakers are taking action to address the shortage across the state. In March 2023, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a bill that will give healthcare institutions $78 million to invest in recruitment and retention.

To learn more about Rapid Growth's Voices of Youth project and read other installments in the series, click here. This series is made possible via underwriting sponsorships from the Steelcase Foundation, Frey Foundation, and Kent ISD.

Meet Christina Kashindi, she is 16 years old and a student at Godfrey-Lee. Christina has always been passionate about the health care industry. She wants to someday join the health care industry after she is finished with school.
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