ICUs understaffed, overloaded

April 1, 2002

Pharmaceutical Representative

ICUs are facing a critical shortage of qualified professionals and an increase in patients that are putting a strain on their ability to provide the best care, according to the Society of Critical Care Medicine.

Intensive care units are facing a critical shortage of qualified professionals and an increase in patients that are putting a strain on their ability to provide the best possible care, according to the Des Plains, IL-based Society of Critical Care Medicine.

"In the next 20 years, the people who will need the most intense care are going to be the baby boomers," said Sidney Stuart Braman, president of the Northbrook, IL-based American College of Chest Physicians. "Only about 35% of patients in ICUs have the input of a physician who is specifically trained in providing critical care. According to a recent assessment, more than 75% of ICUs in the country do not have a full-time intensivist. In the future, we are going to be at an abysmally low level of staffing."

Nursing and pharmacy shortages

Nursing and pharmacy shortages have also negatively affected the ability of ICUs to provide proper care.

"Some conservative estimates indicate a shortage of 500,000 nurses in the next five to10 years, while others are predicting a shortage of 750,000," said Michael L. Williams, president of the Aliso Viego, CA-based American Association of Critical-Care Nurses. "These numbers are for the United States, but the crisis is global."

Surveys from the American Society of Health System Pharmacists, Bethesda, MD, report hospital pharmacy vacancy rates were 15% in 1999, 21.5% in 2000 and 23% in 2001. Another work force study reports the shortage is worse in institutional practice, and rural settings show vacancy rates reaching 29%.

Steps to resolve work force shortage

Several medical organizations, including the SCCM, the ACCP and the AACCN, have recommended a multifaceted approach to help ease the work force crisis, including federal programs to entice more physicians and nurses into entering critical care, improvements in the working conditions in critical care units, funding for more training programs, and legislation to address mandatory overtime and workplace quality of life.

Also, legislation in Congress is designed to increase the number of pharmacists by providing financial aid to pharmacy schools, students and faculty. If passed, the Pharmacy Education Aid Act of 2001 would also make pharmacists eligible to have student loans forgiven and would provide scholarships to pharmacy students. PR

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