In a startling revelation, a recent survey conducted by the Alabama Board of Nursing (ABN) has unveiled that a staggering 38,727 seasoned nurses in Alabama are contemplating leaving the profession within the next five years. Shared during a legislative Health Care Task Force meeting, the survey further discloses that, based on current trends, nurse vacancies in the state could surge to a daunting 14,000 by 2027—almost doubling the current shortage of around 7,200.
Peggy Benson, executive director of the ABN, emphasized the severity of the situation, stating, “We can’t lose 38,000 experienced nurses and not be affected greatly in the state.”
Breaking down the numbers, Alabama currently faces a shortage of 5,422 registered nurses, 1,500 licensed practical nurses for long-term care, and 300 general licensed practical nurses. While the ABN anticipates around 25,000 new graduates applying for nurse licenses in Alabama over the next five years, along with an additional 8,500 from out of state, these figures may not be sufficient to offset the projected losses. Moreover, the ABN predicts a potential decrease in the number of nurses coming from out of state due to the impact of the Nurse Licensure Compact.
Alabama’s nurses, who receive the second-lowest median salary in the nation at $56,570, face challenges such as burnout and early retirement, often exacerbated by the need for second jobs. Of the 84,779 surveyed Alabama nurses, approximately 58,000 reported holding a second job, with 37,000 dedicating at least 32 hours a week to these additional responsibilities.
Addressing the critical situation, Benson proposed legislative revisions to the Nurse Practice Act, aiming to grant the ABN the authority to apply for and award grants for mental health and substance abuse counseling and testing for nurses seeking to return to practice. Substance abuse among nurses has seen a significant rise since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, contributing to the workforce drain.
Benson’s additional proposals include funding a practical nursing dual enrollment program for high school students, allocating supplemental funding in 2024 for the state’s Education Loan Repayment Program, and providing $2 million for the ABN to enhance its licensing management system.
The Health Care Task Force unanimously voted to support all four of Benson’s recommendations, as well as a fifth recommendation to reauthorize the ReEngage Alabama Grant Program, which assists older adults in completing degree programs in high-demand sectors. These recommendations will be forwarded to the Legislature for consideration during the next legislative session in 2024.
Sen. April Weaver, R-Briefield, the chair of the task force and the only registered nurse in the Legislature, pledged to work on drafting legislation to address the nursing shortage, acknowledging the challenging road ahead for Alabama’s nursing workforce.