As reported in the New York Times, new research shows that as the pandemic has increased, so has the nation’s blood pressure readings. For one, Dr. Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, president of the American Heart Association, does not find this at all surprising yet “shocking” nonetheless.
“Even small changes in average blood pressure in the population can have a huge impact on the number of strokes, heart failure events and heart attacks that we’re likely to be seeing in the coming months,” says Lloyd-Jones.
For those of us who may not fully understand exactly what blood pressure readings are reading, it is a measurement of “the pressure of blood against the walls of the arteries.” Normal blood pressure is said to be 120/80 millimeters of pressure or less. Optimal levels are not as clearly defined. The report goes on to say that, “over time, increased pressure can damage the heart, the brain, blood vessels, kidneys and eyes.”
The study, conducted by researchers at the Cleveland Clinic and Quest Diagnostics, states, “Blood pressure measurements of nearly a half-million adults showed a significant rise last year, compared with the previous year.” The study included participants from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The average age was just over 45. Increases were evident for both men and women and all age groups.
Researchers are not exactly clear as to the exact cause of this overall increase in blood pressure, but they suspect it may have to do with a corresponding increase in “alcohol consumption, a decline in exercise, rising stress, a drop in doctors’ visits and less adherence to a medication regimen” that has occurred during the pandemic.
“I think a critical piece is that we know so many people lost contact with the health care system … There are also public health consequences from not seeing your doctor regularly,” adds Lloyd-Jones.
Those returning to scheduled doctor visits, or into a nonemergency procedure at a hospital, will quickly notice they are returning to a health care environment that is in a state of flux.
A Forbes business trend report states that primary health care delivery is now amid a “major transformation.” General practitioners are taking their services online. Giant retailers such as CVS, Walgreens and other retail pharmacy chains are now in the primary care business. Forbes reports that CVS, which calls itself the leading health solutions company, now has more than “1,100 MinuteClinic locations housed in CVS Pharmacy and Target stores across 33 states and the District of Columbia.” The idea is that “patients can drop by one location, get treated and grab their medications and some groceries on their way out,” writes Forbes’ Stefan Behrens.
Virtual health care is becoming commonplace. The first contact today is often with a doctor or nurse on a Facetime screen. We can argue whether “consumerization,” as the health care industry calls it, will negatively impact the quality of patient-provider relationships. No matter. That’s the direction it is headed.
Within the hospital setting, of major and immediate concern is an ever-increasing shortage of registered nurses. As reported in August by the New York Times, in 2019, before the pandemic hit, the Bureau of Labor Statistics listed more than three million nurses in the United States. They further estimated that 176,000 annual openings for registered nurses across the country was on the horizon. A Bloomberg report states that, as of Oct. 1, 2021, “16% of American hospitals had critical staffing shortages.”
“The workhorse of a well-oiled hospital are depleted and traumatized,” the Times’ Andrew Jacobs wrote back in August. “Their ranks thinned by early retirements or career shifts that traded the emergency room for less stressful nursing jobs at schools, summer camps and private doctor’s offices … Burnout and poaching by financially flush health systems have hobbled hospitals during the worst public health crisis in living memory.”
“Across the country, hospitals are so desperate for nurses that they are hiring students before they even graduate,” Scott Detrow announced in a recent NPR report. “And this shortage of nurses is especially dire when it comes to acute care. Meanwhile, becoming a nurse has become more difficult,” explains Yuki Noguchi, a correspondent on NPR’s Science Desk. “There is often 800 people applying to community college nursing programs offering 50 slots. And that’s just community colleges.”
Rayna M. Letourneau is an Assistant Professor with the University of South Florida’s College of Nursing. In a recent report posted on “The Conversation,” she states that, despite a national nursing shortage in the United States, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, “Over 80,000 qualified applications were not accepted at U.S. nursing schools in 2020.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problems confronting the nursing workforce, she says that even in the face of these problems, student enrollment in nursing schools increased in 2020. As the need for nurses has continued to grow, nursing programs have been unable to keep pace. “More than half of all nursing schools report vacant full-time faculty positions,” says Letourneau.
“The most critical issue related to faculty recruitment is compensation,” she reports. “According to a survey by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, the median salary of a nurse practitioner, across settings and specialties, is $110,000. By contrast, the AACN reported in March 2020 that the average salary for master’s-prepared assistant professors in nursing schools was just under $80,000.” In addition, many current teachers are in their late 50s or 60s, meaning another third of the nation’s nursing faculty will be retiring in about four years. If not corrected, this situation “can have serious consequences for patient safety and quality of care.”