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Lasting nurse shortage in Delaware spurs questions about long-term retention


Lasting nurse shortage in Delaware spurs questions about long-term retention 

Delaware Public Media | By Paul Kiefer

Published July 19, 2022 at 5:27 PM EDT

Hospitals, schools, long-term care facilities and prisons nationwide are struggling to hire and retain nurses, and Delaware is no exception.

The exact number of nurse vacancies in Delaware fluctuates from day to day, but healthcare providers broadly agree the current shortage is unsustainable.

Delaware Nurses Association president-elect Stephanie McClellan says nurses throughout the healthcare system are stretched thin.

In community clinics, hospitals and prisons, fewer nurses care for more patients with high-acuity needs. Combined with pandemic stresses and unsatisfactory pay, McClellan says nurses are finding it difficult to manage the consequences of a broad public health crisis that predates COVID-19. 

“Part of the issue is that patients we’re caring for are getting sicker every year," she said. "We have more comorbidities than we’ve ever had, and we have fewer people accessing care early.”

McClellan adds Delaware’s current nurse education programs don’t yet have the capacity to outpace nurse attrition.

Delaware Healthcare Association president Wayne Smith says the shortages have escalated since last fall, but Gov. John Carney’s COVID-19 emergency order helped by loosening some licensure rules. 

“The governor’s moves under executive orders have been a tremendous help in terms of allowing us to deploy students who are in various phases of their medical education," he said, "as well as to invite folks in with clean licenses from other jurisdictions.”

Nevertheless, Smith is hopeful attrition will slow enough to give Delaware time to catch up; he adds that the state Board of Nurses issued 400 new licenses in June – an all-time record.

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