Shortage may go deeper |

Shortage may go deeper

Susan Wood

Nevada is in a state of a severe nursing shortage and an exploding, aging population boom.

To overcome the critical combination, the state needs to expand recruitment and educational opportunities, a report released at a two-day forum ending Tuesday stated.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study, the Silver State was ranked the worst in the nation for nurse-to-population ratio with 520 nurses per 100,000 people.

California was rated second to last.

In comparison, New England states tout a ratio of 1,075 registered nurses to 100,000 people.

The Nevada Hospital Association staged the workshop at the Holiday Inn in Reno to alert the public to what’s deemed an international health care crisis. The regional impact was validated and outlined in a report shared at the conference by John Packham, the health policy analyst at the University of Nevada School of Medicine.

More than 300 people attended the conference titled “The Nursing Workforce and Education In Nevada.”

“The forum was excellent. It confirmed what I suspected. It called to our attention that the nursing shortage is a reality. And everybody needs to step forward to take responsibility for it,” said Julie Johnson, nursing school director at the University of Nevada, Reno.

The issue has many faces.

Among the report’s findings:

-Nevada’s higher education system is unable to meet the demand to fill the estimated 662 new nursing jobs that will be generated in the state each year through 2008.

-Nearly 75 percent of new jobs created will be in Las Vegas; 17 percent in Reno; and about 8 percent in rural areas.

-More than 50 percent of registered nurses with active Nevada licenses are 46 years old or older, while the number of nurses younger than 30 has dropped dramatically.

Cultural changes during recent decades will make it even more difficult to attract people to the nursing profession, experts said.

Historically, nursing was viewed as a woman’s profession. But women today have many more career options – many that don’t require evening, weekend or holiday work.

Forum organizer Doreen Begley, Nevada Hospital Association spokeswoman, said health care professionals, businesses and the education system need to try to spur interest among today’s youth in health care careers.

Incentives also should be used to retain nurses, who may be considering retirement.

While half of the nursing workforce will reach retirement age in the next 15 years, their jobs will grow by 23 percent by 2008, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.

The problem has currently put Barton Memorial Hospital in South Lake Tahoe on an island surrounded by a turbulent sea, but the health care facility will need to shore up its resources in the near future.

“We’ll always have nurses knocking on our doors, but we probably won’t be able to fill enough positions in the next five (to 10) years to make up for retiring nurses,” Barton’s Director of Hospital Operations Kathy Cocking said.

Cocking also cites the lack of affordable housing in Lake Tahoe as one of the contributing factors that may hamper hiring efforts.

With 46 as the average nurse’s age at Barton, the hospital is “going to have be imaginative” to keep its nurses working and happy, she added.

“What we’re trying to do is look at what kind of flexibility will these nurses want,” Cocking said, noting flexible hours as an option and other gestures of appreciation. May 6-12 is nurse appreciation week.

Cocking also notes a need to get young people jazzed about entering the profession. She would like to circulate a recruitment video in middle schools.

Adding to the shortage, registered nurse enrollments in nursing schools are down, falling 4.6 percent in one year nationwide, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Complicating matters, many hospitals are seeking nurses with at least a bachelors degree.

Plus, registered nurses graduate at an older age from nursing school, launching them into the workforce later.

Moreover, a higher education version of class-size reduction is mandated by the Board of Registered Nursing that keeps the faculty-to-student ratio at a minimum.

Johnson’s UNR nursing school has twice as many qualified applicants-86- as those they can accept in any given year.

As of March 2000, the total number of licensed registered nurses in the United States was estimated about 2,696,540 – an increase of 137,666 over the number reported by the federal health department four years earlier.

Despite a 5.4 percent increase in the total nursing population, it was the lowest increase reported in the previous national surveys.

The starting salary for nursing graduates in 1998 was $31,802 – 3.4 percent lower than the previous year.

The actual average annual earnings of nurses employed full-time in 2000 was $46,782. Barton’s average salary is $48,000.

Salary is but one element the Washoe Medical Center is trying to work out with its union nurses for a compensation package still under negotiation.

At least 50 of these nurses and their supporters picketed for a second time in two weeks outside the conference hall Monday during the ongoing labor dispute.

Meanwhile, the Reno hospital is trying to partner with nursing schools to rectify the recruitment problem, Washoe Vice President of Finance Chris Bosse said. To retain happier nurses and encourage continuing education, the hospital is looking at tuition reimbursement programs.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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