Hospitals in every corner of the country are once again buckling under the weight of the coronavirus. But unlike earlier surges when intensive care capacity flexed to grow the number of available beds or acquire additional ventilators, the challenge for health systems today is neither space nor supplies—it's staff.
Even before the coronavirus, US hospitals were short about 200,000 nurses. The situation is far worse today. One survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 3 in 10 health care workers are considering or already have left the bedside. Nurses are superheroes of this pandemic. But they're not superhuman. Tired and traumatized after more than a year on the front lines, nurses are vacating the practice in historic numbers.
Absent a massive infusion of qualified nurses, patient care—and, crucially, patient outcomes—will plummet because nurse staffing directly influences patient mortality. Increasing a nurse's workload by just one patient increases patient mortality by 7 percent.
Hospitals need reinforcements. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services has approved green cards for at least 5,000 qualified, skilled international nurses. These nurses all have sterling clinical records and have passed English language tests, but they cannot emigrate because their visa processing has stalled at the final step due to a bureaucratic backlog.
Under the US State Department's visa processing schedule, there are four priority tiers. Nurses are fourth—dead last—in this framework. In practice, it means they're at the end of a very long, slow-moving line. Meanwhile, ICU beds are filling, and hospitals are struggling to staff them.
The Department of State must fast-track nurse visa processing. American patients deserve nothing less.
We urge you to take just a few minutes and contact your elected representatives in Washington and ask them to elevate this issue with the State Department so we can expediate the approval of these desperately needed nurses.
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