#TheTimeIsNow to Fix the Nurse Staffing Crisis

The crisis isn’t due to a nursing shortage, but because hospitals have intentionally understaffed nurses for decades


Robert Weitzel RN, BSN
ONA President

For the first time ever, we have the nation’s attention. The media, the public, and even hospital CEOs are (finally) worried about nurse staffing. We are in a time when everyone’s ear is ready to listen. We must make sure it’s our voice they’re hearing.

A New York Times opinion piece, by way of video, got it right: greedy hospitals have intentionally understaffed nurses for decades. And this isn’t a Covid problem. This is a culmination of nurses being ignored for years, and now we’re a facing a crisis. That crisis isn’t a nursing shortage, but rather a shortage of nurses willing to work at the bedside.

Why are nurses continually ignored, though year after year we shout for help? Hospital lobbyists are powerful and have consistently blocked common sense legislation at both the federal and state level, Ohio included. One could also blame staffing as hospitals’ biggest budget item, and therefore easiest to cut. And I heard a female colleague once remark about a correlation between this female-dominated profession and the historical undervaluing of women in the workplace as evidenced by lower pay and less women in executive roles (even within our own profession). She wondered, does the proverbial glass ceiling exist for nurses? Is there glass to smash?

I infer our situation is a product of all three scenarios. And our make-it-work attitude (because what choice have we had) left decision-makers believing their own justifications that ignored our cries and the science that backs them. It has been their ‘whatever’ in the ‘whatever helps them sleep at night.’

So now that we have everyone’s ear, let’s shout like we’ve never shouted before. Let’s unify and speak our truths. The Time is Now to created meaningful and systemic changes to fix the nurse staffing crisis. We have to make sure that we’re heard, and that means talking over those who have historically put their own agenda before the needs of nurses and patients. We have to make sure their ‘whatever’ now keeps them up at night.

We need common sense staffing legislation that includes nurse-to-patient ratios. We need to address workplace violence and create an environment where nurses-turned-victims feel supported. We need more nurse educators to prepare our future. We need incentives for nurses educated in Ohio to stay and work in Ohio, and real retention efforts to keep nurses at the bedside. And we need health systems to realize that we can’t do this by ourselves. We need the appropriate ancillary staff to help provide the care our patients deserve.

It’s evident the current system isn’t working. Nurses are at their breaking point. Our profession needs us to come together and take the reins of this once in a lifetime opportunity for the powers-at-be to listen. This is our movement and change is upon us; I can feel it. The time is now.