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This report projects Florida will be short nearly 60,000 nurses by 2035

Nurses lean over a patient's bedside.
U.S. Navy
Many nurses left jobs in the last year, and pandemic disruptions to education made it difficult to bring new ones into the workforce.

Nursing shortages were already a problem, but the COVID-19 pandemic and population growth are making things worse.

Florida doesn't have enough nurses right now, and a new report shows the state could be nearly 60,000 short by 2035.

The reportcommissioned by the Florida Hospital Association and Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida projects by that time, the state will lack 37,400 registered nurses (RN) and 21,700 licensed practical nurses (LPN) needed to care for all of its residents.

“We know that Florida’s population is increasing rapidly, and when you have that kind of population increase, you have a commensurate increase in the need for health care services. So we’ve got to have the health care workforce to support that increased demand now and into the future,” said FHA president and former state health secretary Mary Mayhew.

The report projects rural parts of the state will be most affected by the shortage, particularly when it comes to registered nurses who have more advanced training.

Nursing shortages are not unique to Florida, nor are they only a problem for the future. The association reports there was already an 11 percent vacancy rate for nurses in the state this spring.

Mayhew said one in four registered nurses and one in three critical care nurses left their jobs in the last year. And pandemic disruptions to education made it more difficult to get new nurses into the workforce.

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She said one only has to look at the last couple months when hospitals were overwhelmed with record numbers of COVID patients to understand how care could be affected long-term if things don't change.

“Our hospitals and their staff did a phenomenal job responding to the demand, but we definitely had hospitals that could not accept any new transfers of patients because they didn’t have the staff to support those transfers. That’s the reality when you don’t have enough staff to respond,” said Mayhew.

The report released Thursday from analytics company IHS Markit estimates an additional 4,000 nurses would need to enter the workforce each year until 2035 to address the projected shortfall. It identifies nine actions that could help to improve the situation.

Many revolve around education. Mayhew said it’s critical to provide existing nurses resources to enhance their training and further their careers. And she said colleges and universities need help hiring more faculty to recruit and train the next generation of health care workers.

Programs with low passing rates for nursing licensing exams should also be evaluated to identify what steps need to be taken to improve the state’s overall passing rate, which is below the national average.

Other recommendations are geared toward retaining nurses currently in the workforce who have had an incredibly challenging 18 months during the pandemic, in what was already a demanding job. The report calls for studies to understand why nurses move to or leave Florida, and why nurses have left the workforce, in order to help hospitals improve retention programs and recruit staff from other states.

“It is our hope that this study will provide valuable information to all of those in leadership positions about the state’s near-future nursing needs. These needs require a thoughtful, all-encompassing approach to educating, training, recruiting, and retaining Florida’s present and future nurses,” Justin Senior, CEO of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, said in a statement.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.