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As national shortage of nurses persists, Bristol Health feels the effects

Doctor and nurses in hospital.
A Connecticut report release last year showed the state with health care spending increasing faster than the target set by state officials.

A nationwide shortage of nursing care is impacting community-owned Bristol Health. The cash-strapped hospital says it’s losing valuable nurses to nearby UConn Health, as it struggles to maintain its operations in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bristol Health, which includes a hospital and over 100 provider networks in Connecticut, is asking the public to donate $1 million to help stabilize its finances. Kurt Barwis, CEO of the organization, said repeated insurance claim denials are threatening the health system’s future.

But he’s also raising concerns about a shortage of nurses, saying many nurses at hospitals across Connecticut are leaving to go work for nearby UConn Health.

“The big issue is that the minute somebody goes there, they automatically get free college tuition for their kids if they are in the UConn college,” Barwis said. “But there are also other advantages that they get in terms of benefits, time off, things like that. It is very hard because we are literally geographically very close to them.”

UConn Health has recently listed a number of job openings for nurses, with some positions offering a signing bonus of $10,000 for qualifying workers.

“States nationwide are currently experiencing a shortage of nurses, and the governor believes that we should be doing everything we can to encourage workers to enter this field,” said David Bednarz, a spokesperson for Gov. Ned Lamont, in a statement. “Salaries for nurses must remain competitive if we want to ensure that hospitals can fill these jobs and provide patients with a high quality of care.”

Barwis said benefits offered at UConn Health are driving up the staffing costs.

“It's kind of contradictory because the state itself, a state organization, is pushing up the cost of health care in the Hartford region dramatically,” he said.

Last year, Connecticut released its first ever health care cost growth benchmark report, with health care spending increasing faster than the target set by state officials.

The report found the cost of drugs and procedures were major drivers of cost increases. It did not mention staffing costs.

Meanwhile, burnout rates reported by health care workers nationally are higher than in any other industry, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nurses have also raised concerns over working conditions, citing staffing shortages as patients present with more severe health needs.

As nursing care shortages persist, many health care networks are offering signing bonuses for nurses.

Nationally, about one in five nursing and health care job listings advertise signing bonuses, according to Becker’s Hospital Review.

The average signing bonuses for the titles of nursing director was $17,216; $11,143 for registered nurse; $3,912 for nursing assistant; and $3,627 for nurse practitioner, according to the report.

Sujata Srinivasan is Connecticut Public Radio’s senior health reporter. Prior to that, she was a senior producer for Where We Live, a newsroom editor, and from 2010-2014, a business reporter for the station.

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