Pandemic made chronic shortage of nurses in Ky. an acute shortage; now 1/4 of Ky. nurses say they plan to leave their jobs

Nurse Cydney Kanis at Baptist Health Lexington (Photo by Alex Slitz, Lexington Herald-Leader)

One in four Kentucky nurses say they plan to leave their job in the next three months, saying they are “exhausted, overworked and underpaid,” writes Alex Acquisto of the Lexington Herald-Leader, reporting on a survey of 850 licensed nurses this month by the Kentucky Nurses Association.
The poll found that 73% “said the driving factor behind their burnout and the overall workforce shortage was untenable patient loads and too few nursing staff, while just over 40% cited insufficient pay,” Acquisto reports. “A quarter said it was ‘likely’ or ‘extremely likely’ they would leave their current position in the next three months, and 16% said they were likely to leave the profession altogether.
“I don’t want to leave the nursing field, but I cannot imagine being a nurse in five years with no change,” one unnamed nurse said in her response to the survey.

At a press conference about the poll, “Nurses and leaders of state health-care associations proposed that Kentucky allocate $100 million in federal pandemic money to aid in the nursing workforce shortage,” Acquisto reports.

Gov. Andy Beshear has asked the legislature to provide bonuses to front-line essential workers who stayed employed throughout the pandemic, using $400 million in pandemic relief, and the nurses’ prescription calls for the state to a forth of that for nursing, including $50 million for retention bonuses, $20 million for loan forgiveness for nursing faculty, students and graduate nurses who work in under-served areas.
The pandemic has pushed nurses to their physical and emotional limits, Kristin Pickerell, director of critical care and emergency services at Norton Healthcare in Louisville and past president of the Kentucky Organization of Nurse Leaders, said at the press conference.
“We started this pandemic with nurses being heroes — it was really a rallying point for the public,” she said, but in recent months, “It’s really kind of morphed into something different,” she said, citing occasional instances of “violence against nurses in the hospital, all because of the pandemic and one’s belief that [Covid-19] isn’t real.”
KNA board president Donna Meador said that due to frequent cases of “physical and verbal abuse,” at least one health-care employer in Kentucky issued “panic buttons” to its nursing staff during the pandemic, which she said is “almost unbelievable.”
Of the nurses who responded to the survey, “61% had more than 21 years of experience,” Acquisto reports. “Roughly a quarter said physical exhaustion and fear of spreading coronavirus to a loved one was also contributing to the shortage. A majority cited better pay, financial incentives and more staffing support as critical solutions.
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