Lawmakers Offers Bill to Provide Funds to Train More Nurses
Hoping to ease a nursing shortage, Assembly member Lou Correa (D-Anaheim) introduced a bill (AB 338) yesterday that would increase the number of available slots for nursing students at Orange County community colleges and California State University-Fullerton, the Orange County Register reports (Saar, Orange County Register, 2/22). The bill would fund a $4 million, two-year pilot project for more nursing classrooms and teachers. The state would provide half the money, while area hospitals would pay the remainder. Twenty-three of Orange County's hospitals support the legislation. Correa said, "Right now, we have almost 1,000 students on the wait list throughout the county who want to be nurses." (Reyes, Los Angeles Times, 2/22). At 544 nurses per 100,000 people, California's nurse-to-population ratio ranks 49th compared to other states (Orange County Register, 2/22). Under recent legislation, the Department of Health Services now is tasked with establishing specific nurse-to-patient ratios for all the state's hospitals, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. Currently, California only enforces nurse staffing levels -- one nurse for every two patients -- in intensive-care units. The ratios have set off a "fight" between nurses' unions and hospitals, who are "miles apart in their proposals" on staffing ratios (Fong, San Diego Union-Tribune, 2/21).
Asserting that the state's nurse-to-patient ratios are "dangerously low," a San Diego Union-Tribune editorial says that it is "difficult to comprehend why the Palomar Pomerado [Heath System] board refused ... to participate in the Nurses Now program," which aims to more than double the number of San Diego State University nursing graduates each year. The editorial states that it is "doubtful" that either Palomar Pomerado or Tri-City Medical Center -- both in North County -- would be able to meet even the most "lenient" staffing standards that the health department might propose. As it is now, Palomar Pomerado is 100 nurses short of its authorized staff of 615, and Tri-City is 54 short of its authorized 549, the editorial says. Under the Nurses Now program, each hospital systems will donate $210,000 over three years to enable San Diego State to hire an additional instructor, who could teach about 20 additional students. In turn, those students would train in participating hospitals for three years.
Palomar Pomerado declined to participate in the program, saying that because only 16% of San Diego State's student body lives in North County, not many students would want to work in its Escondido and Poway hospitals. Furthermore, Palomar Pomerado said that because the nursing shortage is statewide and the university is state-supported, California should pay for the extra instructors. While $210,000 is "a lot of money for any hospital district to commit to a program that does not have an ironclad guarantee of eventually giving it more nurses," the editorial adds that Palomar Pomerado's logic for not participating in the program "smacks of a public-be-damned stance." However, the editorial notes that the Tri-City Medical Center board could reach a different conclusion about the program, as it makes its decision today. The editorial concludes that such a decision "could pay big dividends -- especially for Tri-City's patients" (San Diego Union-Tribune, 2/22).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.