>> Hospitals across America are facing a dire shortage of nurses, forcing them to find new ways of attracting and retaining staff. Nursing shortages have occurred before, but the current crisis is worse. Reuters' health reporter, Jilian Mincer.>> Many hospitals are offering $10,000 signing bonuses, free housing, and they're repaying students loans.
This is coming at a very difficult time for hospitals because as Americans age, there's greater demand for hospitals. There are also more Americans insured as a result of the Affordable Care Act.>> 40-year-old Christine Marasco works at JW Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, West Virginia, even though she lives two hours away.
To make easier on Marasco, the hospital puts her up in a dorm across the street.>> I do leave a husband and four children to come work at WVU Medicine and there's a very good reason for that. The benefits package, compensation, there was a very handsome sign-on bonus at the time.
And the big thing for me was that the company was able to provide housing for me while I was here at no additional charge to me. So it made it almost irresistable. How could I not come?
Hospitals that can't afford to attract nurses face a difficult choice between risking patient safety or closing down departments.
Doug Mitchell, a career nurse with 30 years under his belt, says this latest nursing shortage is alarming.>> When we're 98% occupied and there's a nursing shortage, that's difficult. If a nurse decides, I don't like it here, he or she can walk across the street. They could be working tomorrow morning.
It's definitely a seller's market. So as a buyer, we have to make it so this is an attractive place for nurses to come and work and do a great job.>> To fill the void, many hospitals are also bringing on short-term hires, known as travel nurses, who are stationed at a hospital for 13 to 26 weeks at a time.
But the costs for that can add up. Employing a travel nurse in Alabama costs $140,000, compared to $80,000 annually for a local nurse. In rural states, the problem is even more acute. The nursing shortage in Missouri reached a record high this year with almost 16%, or nearly 6,000, positions remaining vacant.