Nursing stocked, but not for long
Columbus Business First
Friday, November 13, 2009
Business First of Columbus - by Carrie Ghose
Central Ohio’s relatively tight job market for nurses could be temporary cover for a gaping maw to come.
The state nursing shortage is projected to hit 32,000 by 2020, or 29 percent of needed full-time RNs, one of the three deepest shortfalls in the nation, according to a report from the Health Policy Institute of Ohio. The national shortage is projected at 300,000 as more nurses retire while an aging population increases demand.
“It’s going to be a tsunami or a hurricane. Whether it’s a (category) 4 or a 3 really doesn’t matter,” Brenda Cleary, director of the AARP’s Center to Champion Nursing in America, said at a Nov. 10 Health Policy Institute seminar on the subject.
Ohio’s 11 percent turnover rate and 5 percent vacancy for registered nurses are below national averages, but nurses and educators interviewed for a report the institute released this month cited longer hours, increasing case loads and greater physical demands as top strains on the nursing supply.
“It is clear that they worry that patient safety will suffer if these issues are not urgently addressed,” said the report by consultant Joanne Fuccello.
Schools have made efforts to increase nursing graduates. The Mount Carmel College of Nursing has record enrollment this year, for example. Meanwhile, nurses are delaying retirement in the recession. As a result, Columbus-area hospitals this year have reported low vacancy rates and, for a few, waiting lists of applicants.
But expansions under way or planned at all four local hospital systems will add more than 600 beds in the coming years.
“It’s going to increase the demand for nurses tremendously,” said Elizabeth Lenz, dean of Ohio State University’s nursing school.
The expansions will alleviate one bottleneck for nursing education by providing more clinical training space for students. But it could exacerbate another bottleneck – a faculty shortage projected to hit 3,600 statewide in 10 years.
OSU is feeling the pinch of both. The nursing school this fall turned away three and a half qualified applicants for every one admitted because of lack of capacity. Three instructors left for higher-paying jobs at OSU Medical Center, Lenz said.
Nurses in the Health Policy Institute report suggested using federal Workforce Investment Act money to support nurses seeking graduate degrees, loan forgiveness for those who go on to teach, income tax credits to offset uncompetitive faculty salaries and eventually raising that pay to compete with clinical jobs. They also said Ohio could use more online education and should study whether to count simulation labs toward clinical practice for a license.
Seminar participants agreed there’s a national need to collect consistent data on nursing students, work force and demand so results can be compared between states for efficient distribution of resources.
“We have computers, folks,” Lenz said.
Advocacy has increased the past two years, including a Web-based initiative to promote the career, a trade group collaborative to find strategies to enhance the profession, and a state network joining a national movement to spread innovative ways to recruit and retain nurses.
State lawmakers in 2008 required Ohio hospitals to establish nursing committees that review staff-to-patient ratios to head off efforts like those in other states to mandate specific ratios. Several other bills pending at the Statehouse and in Congress are aimed at the shortage.
Senate Bill 89, which passed the state Senate in July, would allow advance-practice nurses to transfer prescribing authority to Ohio if they had it in another state for at least a year without going through 500 hours of physician supervision. It also has some education provisions to help meet regional nursing demand.
Ohio House Bill 74 would limit mandatory overtime and create tuition reimbursement for nursing education, income tax credits for faculty and deductions for nurse aides.
Pending federal bills would mandate staffing ratios, provide whistle-blower protection and add mandated safety requirements.
This year, $200 million in stimulus funds is directed at nursing and primary care and $250 million more in Labor Department grants are available for job training in high-growth sectors, especially health care. The 2009 federal budget boosted nursing education funding by $15 million to $171 million, and President Barack Obama has proposed increasing that to $263 million for fiscal 2010.
“Our students are having no problem finding jobs,” Lenz said. “We don’t want to lose momentum.”
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