Nursing Shortages Compound Capacity Concerns, Strain Emergency Departments Amid COVID Surge

WASHINGTON, D.C.—As COVID cases surge, the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) is very concerned that nursing shortages in emergency departments can complicate patient access to care and add to incredible levels of stress already on physician-led care teams.  

“Emergency physicians are being tested yet again by hospital capacity concerns and staff shortages,” said Gillian Schmitz, MD, FACEP, president of ACEP. “In many communities the strain on the frontlines is more severe today than at any other point during this pandemic.”

An emergency nurse has an indispensable role on a physician-led care team. But with fewer nurses available, each member of the team will clock extra hours, care for more patients, and stretch to take on additional clinical and nonclinical duties. Meanwhile, emergency physicians are leading efforts at the facility, regional and federal levels to address workforce issues that include staffing concerns and resource shortages that cut across job roles.

“Everyone available is filling gaps as best they can, but the current path for many frontline workers is not sustainable,” said Dr. Schmitz.

The pandemic adds real urgency to the need to address the longstanding issues that continue to challenge the emergency medicine workforce. These include meaningful steps to prevent violence in the emergency department and initiatives to protect the mental health of those working on the frontlines, among other ACEP-supported efforts to empower emergency physicians on the job.  

“Emergency department leaders are doing their best to meet today’s challenges under severe resource constraints,” said Dr. Schmitz. “Emergency physicians will continue to do everything necessary to treat patients, but it will take a collaborative effort with legislators, policymakers and health system leaders to strengthen care teams, improve access and address capacity concerns with solutions that can save lives right now and in the months ahead.”

The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) is the national medical society representing emergency medicine. Through continuing education, research, public education, and advocacy, ACEP advances emergency care on behalf of its 40,000 emergency physician members, and the more than 150 million people they treat on an annual basis. For more information, visit www.acep.org and www.emergencyphysicians.org

Contact: Steve Arnoff | sarnoff@acep.org | Twitter @EmergencyDocs

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