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Missouri hospitals are seeing the highest vacancy rate of nurses in its history

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri hospitals are seeing the highest vacancy rate of nurses ever, up more than 12% from 2018, according to the Missouri Hospital Association.

Last month, the state announced $3 million in grant funding for 11 Missouri colleges and universities to help with nursing education programs to lessen the staffing shortages nationwide.

In a recent report from the Missouri Hospital Association (MHA), there are nearly 34,000 nurses that work inside Missouri hospitals, but there are more than 8,000 vacant staff nurse positions.

Joy Roberts has been a nurse for decades, but she’s also the interim dean for the University of Missouri Kansas City School of Nursing and Health Studies. She said the problem doesn’t only lie within a lack of nursing students. Finding faculty to teach the profession is also a struggle.

“We’re not making nurses fast enough to be able to meet the need,” Roberts said. “Right now, one of the things that is the mountain for us to climb in order to get to where we can educate more nurses, first we have to get enough nursing faculty.”

The Missouri State Board of Nursing 2020 annual report showed that of the state’s 90 pre-licensure nursing programs, there were at least 45 unfilled full-time and 44 open part-time nurse faculty positions. That year, there were more than 10,400 nursing students enrolled in school.

“That combination of aging population, a large population of people living longer with chronic diseases means there are a lot more care needs of our population which means more need for nursing care,” Roberts said.

She said there was a shortage of nurses before the pandemic, but then people saw the heroic work of health care workers.

Since then, the number of nursing students has fallen, creating an even bigger shortage.

“There is a tremendous shortage of nursing in the United States but also across the globe,” Roberts said. “The need is enormous, the funding that the schools of nursing have is not enormous, and having this money made available by the state will make a big difference in allowing us to educate and graduate and move new nurses into practice.”

According to MHA’s 2022 Workforce Report, the vacancy rate for staff nurse is 19.8%, nearly 8% higher than in 2021 and nearly 10% higher than in 2019. The turnover rate has also increased. Back in 2018, the turnover rate for nurses was 17% but in 2022 it was 22.1%.

“One of the good things we are doing is trying to put money into that arena to try and get more nurses to be able to work,” Gov. Mike Parson said at an interview at the end of September. “I think it’s why several community colleges have expanded nursing programs throughout the state, and we are adding more programs trying to expand them just to meet the backlog of healthcare workers in the state.”

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