NURSING SHORTAGE: Hospitals Nationwide Face Crunch
With a strong economy and low unemployment rate, hospitals around the nation have suffered nursing shortages in recent years, forcing administrators to intensify recruiting efforts to fill the vacancies. At Medical City Dallas Hospital, for example, the vacancy rate for acute care registered nurses had reached critical levels, spurring hospital officials to launch an aggressive recruiting campaign -- including nationwide job fairs, employment ads and signing bonuses up to $5,000, the Dallas Business Journal reports. The effort has reduced the vacancy rate from 23% to 12%, but the shortage remains a "crisis." Chief Nursing Officer Shiela Everly said, "I could hire 10 nurses today for critical care and I would still have vacancies. The general shortage of nurses has been going on for a couple of years. It's just difficult everywhere to attract nurses." Of the 13,860 nursing positions in north Texas, 1,444 remained unfilled in June, a Dallas/Ft. Worth Hospital Council survey found. "Nursing shortages are always cyclical, and each time we've had a shortage we've recruited nationwide and in foreign countries, options we don't have now as the population ages and the shortage extends worldwide," council Vice President Paulette Standifer said. In 1998, Texas fell short of the national average for nurses per 100,000 residents, and those numbers are "unlikely to improve." Nationally, nursing school enrollment dropped by 20.9% from 1995 to 1998, while jobs will likely expand by 23% between 1999 and 2006, according to the Harvard Nursing Research Institute (Patrick, 8/14).
New York Nightmare
In New York, state health officials said Monday they will investigate nurses' claims that staffing shortages at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center have endangered the safety of patients, Newsday reports. While they acknowledged "difficulty in hiring and keeping nurses," officials at St. Catherine of Siena, owned by Catholic Health Services of Long Island, denied charges of inadequate patient care. The New York State Nurses Association disagreed, calling staffing "deplorable." In a package of letters sent Aug. 8, association officials urged state regulators to conduct a surprise inspection "so they can witness these unsafe conditions for themselves." Association representative Michael Chacon said, "Nurses are absolutely demoralized." Hospital officials said they could not comment on the specifics of the complaint, adding that they have "recruited nurses aggressively." According to Margaret Ochotorena, vice president for patient care, "It is a priority that we have been given our utmost attention to, but ... we find ourselves facing the same challenge that every hospital ... faces." The recent complaint comes on the heels of the death of Michael Ryan, an 85-year-old diabetes patient who died at the facility in April 1998 as a result of inadequate care (Eisenberg, 8/15).
New Mexico Quandary
New Mexico has also suffered from the nursing drought, sending more babies out of state for intensive care due to a shortage at Albuquerque hospitals, the Albuquerque Journal reports. Last Thursday, Presbyterian Hospital cut intensive care beds for newborns from 40 to between 34 and 36, while University Hospital cannot maintain its 24 beds because of inadequate staffing, representatives from the hospitals said. Presbyterian has nine nurses in training to help bolster the hospital's 57-member newborn intensive care staff, spokesperson Michael Campos said. "There's definitely a New Mexico nursing shortage. We want to do everything and anything to encourage young people to look at nursing (as a career)," he said. Steve McKernan, CEO of University Hospital, offered nurses a 9.3% pay raise, hoping to attract more workers. "We're aggressively recruiting for more staff," he said (Jadrnak, 8/14).