ANA urges HHS to declare national nurse staffing crisis, adopt new policies to bolster workforces

A physician in scrubs in a hospital hallway
The American Nurses Association called for new federal policies targeting workforce well-being, retention and long-term stability in a recent letter to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. (Getty/NanoStockk)

The American Nurses Association (ANA) has penned a letter to a top federal healthcare official urging the administration to declare a national nurse staffing crisis and adopt new policies to shore up the workforce.

Sent yesterday, the organization’s letter (PDF) to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra warns that the prolonged pandemic response is overwhelming hospitals and has “only exacerbated underlying, chronic nursing workforce challenges that have persisted for years.”

ANA’s letter pointed to reports out of Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas and Louisiana in which hospitals had lost or were in need of thousands of additional nurses to meet demand, as well as the state of Nebraska’s controversial decision to target unvaccinated nurses for recruitment.

To offset these trends, the nursing field needs outside help to tackle the broad issues of workforce retention, nurses’ mental well-being and limited education of new nursing students, among other issues.

“Nurses alone cannot solve this longstanding issue and it is not our burden to carry,” ANA President Ernest Grant said in a statement accompanying the letter. “If we truly value the immeasurable contributions of the nursing workforce, then it is imperative that HHS utilize all available authorities to address this issue.”

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ANA’s letter also proposed a handful of policy solutions for the administration to consider. These included:

  • Convening provider and government stakeholders to identify short- and long-term answers to staffing shortages
  • Reworking Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ reimbursement methodologies to separate nurses’ direct care and care coordination services from “room and board” designations that would allow for more “appropriate” payment
  • Permanently removing “unnecessary” regulatory barriers on advanced practice registered nurses
  • Maintaining public education on COVID-19 vaccination and, in particular, vaccine boosters
  • Providing additional federal resources to address pandemic-related shortages as well as lasting workforce resiliency

“Since the nation began COVID-19 mitigation and response efforts, much focus has been placed on nurses facing shortages of equipment to appropriately care for patients,” the ANA wrote in the letter. “Now, it is imperative that the administration acknowledge and take concrete steps to address a more dire shortage: a crisis-level human resource shortage of nurses that puts our ability to care for patients in jeopardy.”

Workforce shortages—and their effect on staffing costs—have been front of mind for many in the healthcare industry. Recent surveys of hospital and health system leaders from Aon and McKinsey suggest that organizations in need are ramping up hiring efforts and leaning into sign-on or employment benefits to shore up their numbers.