Why Hospitals Are Cutting Jobs and Services

By Stephanie Watson @YourCareE
December 12, 2022
Why Hospitals Are Cutting Jobs and Services

Some hospitals are facing worker shortages. Here's why hospitals are cutting back on staff and how to ensure you still get good care when you need it.

Visit a hospital emergency room just about anywhere in the United States, and you'll have a similar experience. You'll wait… and wait. In some parts of the country, people can expect to spend up to 4 hours sitting in the ER. Waiting is also the norm for routine tests and elective surgeries.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, rising labor costs have forced hospitals to cut back on staff and services, even as these facilities already face worker shortages. Meanwhile, an influx of sick patients is overwhelming what few staff remain at some hospitals.

Here's why hospitals are cutting back on staff, and how to ensure you still get good care when you need it.


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The healthcare worker shortage

America was already in the throes of a healthcare worker shortage when COVID-19 arrived in 2020. The pandemic only intensified the problem.

As hospitals lost business in the early days of the pandemic, they furloughed some workers and cut the hours of others. In May 2020, about 15 percent of hospital workers said they hadn't been able to work during the previous four weeks due to the pandemic.

Working many hours, low pay, burnout, and unrelenting stress from COVID-19 took their toll on the remaining doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff. Nearly 1 in 5 healthcare workers quit their jobs during the pandemic. Almost one-third of the providers who stayed have considered leaving.

Rising costs

The nursing shortage forced many hospitals to bring in contract or travel workers, who earn much higher rates than full-time employees. Bozeman Hospital in Montana saw its spending on short-term workers rise from less than $100,000 a month before COVID to $1.4 million a month during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, reimbursements remained flat while operating costs rose due to inflation. Hospital expenses in 2021 were 11 percent higher than they were in 2019.

Although federal subsidies helped keep many hospitals afloat during the first year of the pandemic, nationwide facilities lost an estimated $54 billion in net income in 2021. Subsequent waves of omicron cases, coupled with rising inflation and staffing issues, put the squeeze on already strained hospital budgets.

Health systems have taken measures to curb costs, such has reducing employee travel, cutting nonessential jobs, and shifting contract workers into staff positions. Still, many hospitals struggle to remain solvent.

How cutbacks affect patients

A lack of hospital staff has left patients grappling with longer wait times and fewer providers to care for them. In a survey from the American Nurses Foundation, about half of nurses said that their unit has the necessary staff available only 49 percent of the time, or even less often.

As a result of staffing shortages, patients are having to wait for non-emergency services like lab testing and elective surgeries. Hospitals are deferring patients to other facilities for care. In rural areas, which have already faced waves of hospital closures, a reduction in services is forcing some people to travel long distances for healthcare — or forgo healthcare altogether.

What you can do

Because nurses and other hospital staff are in such short supply, the best thing you can do is to avoid hospitalization. Take care of your health by:

  • Eating a nutritious diet
  • Exercising
  • Getting recommended vaccines
  • Seeing your primary care doctor for regular check-ups to catch health problems early

If you need to reschedule a test or procedure, ask for the soonest date possible. You might also inquire about the possibility of having the service at another hospital in your area.

To avoid going to an overflowing emergency room, call your doctor about any health problem that isn't a true emergency. Most doctor's offices have at least one provider on-call 24 hours a day. You might be able to care for yourself at home or schedule an appointment at a walk-in clinic instead of going to a hospital.


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December 12, 2022

Reviewed By:  

Janet O'Dell, RN