A Look at Today’s Nursing Health Care Challenges

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Older woman in wheelchair with caregiver

In the United States, patients are increasing demand on the health care system at the fastest rate in modern history. [1] By 2020, the oldest members of the much talked about seventy-three million-member baby boomer generation will reach the age of seventy-four. Today, seventy-five million United States citizens range between fifty-one and sixty-nine years old.

This presents major health care challenges for the management of dementia, a condition often diagnosed in patients in this age bracket. In fact, physicians diagnose one in every ten Americans over the age of sixty-five with the most common form of dementia called Alzheimer’s disease, and researchers forecast that by 2030 doctors will diagnose more than eight million aging citizens with a dementia variant.

The nursing shortage is pronounced in the United States, and many children have moved far away from home and their now senior family members who need assistance managing loss of cognitive abilities. Of the offspring that have kept residences nearby, many feel heavily burdened with managing the conditions of their aging parents. Caring for patients with dementia has also placed a strain on United States caregivers who are aging themselves and doing their best to manage their own conditions.

The Buildup to Today’s Aging Issues

A 2008 Institute of Medicine (IOM) journal entry titled “Retooling for an Aging America: Building the Health Care Workforce” forecasts the now well-known shortage among geriatric health care professionals such as nurse practitioners, physicians, psychiatrists, and social workers. The premonition set forth in the 2008 IOM report has since been increasingly reaffirmed and is now taking root in American care provider institutions.

Exacerbating the problem is that the medical workers who complete the most physically challenging daily tasks – home health aides – earn slightly above minimum wage in a society that pays salaries commensurate with training. This circumstance has given United States workers little impetus to consider a career as a home health aide professional.

The movement of young, ambitious citizens out of rural areas combined with the influx of retirees into rural areas has resulted in vast populations of aging consumers with no nearby familial connections. In fact, government agencies report that this influx is so significant that the population shift has raised the mortality rate to over 14percent higher than the most densely settled municipalities in the country.

Along with the migration of aging citizens to rural areas comes the need to treat their conditions. Unfortunately, rural areas do not have the financial or human resources to manage this population effectively in a nation that’s lacking these precious commodities in every state.

Compounding these issues even more is that many willing familial caregivers lack the resources to help seniors living in these areas, and even if all willing caregivers do have sufficient resources to care for aging rural residents, the areas still sorely lack access to primary providers. Resultantly, older consumers who have retired to rural America often face their golden years isolated from family members and unable to procure proper medical treatment. Family members who can no longer bear the burden of caring for or worrying about their loved ones who’ve moved to these distant, sprawling communities eventually resort to depositing their relatives in long-term care facilities. To date, the fees incurred for long-term care in the United States reaches nearly $260 billion every year.

A Solution in an Unlikely Place

The State of New York has focused its attention on helping caregivers who must cope with such circumstances. In fact, the Empire State has earmarked $62.5 million, dispersed over a five-year period, to aid in supporting those who care for the elderly.

New York isn’t the only state that is experimenting with caring for caregivers; North Dakota, Minnesota and North Carolina have implemented similar initiatives. Despite the upfront costs, these programs might save billions of dollars in expenses over time. More importantly, the fund may give more seniors the opportunity to age in place and give family members more time to spend with the elderly in their precious final years.

The U.S. Is Not Alone in the Shortage

A 2017 Health Pilot report highlights the health care talent shortage in Ogun, Africa. [2] In Ogun, the nursing talent pool has dropped from 7,000 to 3,000 practitioners since 2015. Regulations call for care facilities to maintain a 1:4 nurse-patient ratio. However, with the current nursing shortage, that ratio consistently looks more like 1:20.

In the United States and around the world, populations are aging faster than schools can produce new health care professionals. Hopefully, this narrative drives home the critical need for healers among those who are teetering on the precipice of choosing a rewarding career in health care.

Learn More
For students who aspire to an advanced career in nursing, Ohio University’s online MSN program helps them gain the skills and experience necessary to take their nursing careers to the next level. Learn more about Ohio University’s online Master of Science in Nursing.

[1] Newsweek 

[2] The Health Pilot.org

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