RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — North Carolina could be more than 20,000 registered nurses short by the year 2023, according to an expert who helped put together a model to track those shortages.
The N.C. Nursecast website was unveiled Monday, giving policy-makers and the general public a tool to monitor the shortage of nurses that existed before the COVID-19 pandemic but is only expected to get worse in the next dozen years.
Because the tracking project took years to create, the COVID effect is not yet factored in. Those pre-pandemic numbers point to a shortage of about 12,000 RNs — or 11 percent of the workforce of RNs — by 2023.
“If nurses in fact retire or leave the workforce, even just five years earlier than they would have, that brings us up to 21,000 nurses,” said Erin Fraher, the deputy director of the University of North Carolina’s Sheps Center for Health Services Research — one of the groups behind the project.
The model also shows that after adjusting for population, most of the state’s six Medicaid regions will be dealing with those shortages, with the Triad and Triangle regions facing the largest ones.
The Southeast, incidentally, is projected to have a surplus because researchers expect those health care providers to have a high retention rate of graduates in that area.
It also projects metropolitan areas to face higher population-adjusted shortages than those non-metro places.
“It’s really important to recognize that the health care system is going to be under stress in terms of being able to provide health care in the coming years,” Fraher said.
Meka Douthit El, the president of the North Carolina Nurses Association, told CBS 17 that the tracker can be an effective tool for policy-makers.
“We have to pay attention to what we have the most opportunity around,” she said. “That is with our pipeline of new student nurses and our supportive faculty.”
But even that pipeline might not be enough to overcome those dire projections. Fraher says even an immediate increase of 10 percent would still leave a future shortage.
“We are not going to be able to educate our way out of this shortage,” she said.
But it is a nursing-specific issue or yet another indication of the broader labor market? Douthit El says the shortage goes beyond simply paying nurses more.
“People are going to make the best choices to meet their family needs and we need to make sure that we focus on retention,” she said. “We do have to keep our eye on labor, and then with pay. … But that is just a short-term fix. We have to make sure that we have the workplace issue solid. We have to make sure that we keep the pipeline fed for years to come.”
Fraher says the key is to keep the current nurses happy and perhaps even entice those who have left the profession to return.
“They’re going to have to cherish their workforce,” Fraher said.