COVID-19 Nurses Survey: Happy Warriors but Understaffed

Majority of US nurses say hospital staffing has reached unsafe levels as clinicians go in quarantine 

WASHINGTON—A nationwide survey of foreign-educated registered nurses found the vast majority of US hospitals and healthcare facilities are unable to staff to meet the patient demands of the coronavirus outbreak safely.

The availability of nurses was an urgent concern for most US hospitals even before the novel coronavirus. Now, 59 percent of RNs say they know nurses in their unit or hospital who have been quarantined after exposure or infection.

As a result, a majority of US nurses said the pandemic had strained staffing in their unit to “unsafe levels.” Still, almost 8-in-10 nurses said they were happy to be a nurse even amidst this public health crisis.

“Nurses are the front lines in the fight against a disease that’s already claimed the lives of more than 45,000 Americans in the space of just three months, but no one is listening when they say they need reinforcements,” American Association of International Healthcare Recruitment President Shari Costantini, RN, said. “Legislative or administrative actions that impede the ability to recruit and hire new international nurses are leading to unsafe conditions for patients. Today, more than any time in our history, the United States needs more nurses.”

“America can’t effectively take a war footing with this disease unless it has enough soldiers, and our front lines are telling us emphatically that we don’t,” AAIHR Vice Chair Patty Jeffrey said.

Key findings:

  • Fifty-nine percent of nurses said the massive influx of COVID-19 patients had precipitated unsafe staffing in their hospitals. Only 35 percent said the outbreak had not led to unsafe staffing.
  • Seventy-six percent of nurses said their unit and patients would benefit from additional nurses.
  • Fifty-nine percent of nurses said they knew a nurse in their unit or hospital that had been exposed, infected, and quarantined after exposure on the job. Only 35 percent said they did not know any.
  • Only fifty-eight percent of nurses said were confident they could still provide adequate care to their patients.
  • Fifty-two percent of foreign-educated nurses said they had prior overseas clinical experience relevant to COVID-194

The survey, conducted by the AAIHR, sampled the opinions of more than 500 nurses between April 16-20.

Today there are upwards of 15,000 qualified overseas nurses who have passed background checks and US licensure and English language proficiency tests but cannot get their visas processed by the State Department because of a green card freeze. This retrogression, which regulates numerically limited categories of immigration, means thousands of qualified nurses who have otherwise cleared every other immigration hurdle cannot come to the United States.

The AAIHR previously called for Congress to recapture previously unused visas for qualified international nurses to help meet the unprecedented challenges of the novel coronavirus pandemic.