NURSING SHORTAGE: Hospitals Offer Perks to Attract Nurses
As the nation copes with a nursing shortage that is only expected to worsen, many hospitals and health care providers are offering a variety of benefits to attract and keep nurses, the AP/Los Angeles Times reports. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officials expect the shortage to worsen, but say that it currently appears to be limited to isolated parts of the country. Pam Thompson, executive director of the American Organization of Nurse Executives, said, "Our members are having difficulty in filling positions, especially in the more specific areas like critical care, labor and delivery and the emergency room." To increase their nursing staff, hospitals are now offering child care subsidies, tuition and student loan reimbursement programs, flexible hours and signing bonuses as high as $5,000, among other benefits. Community Hospitals of Indianapolis even offered maid or lawn service to their experienced nurses, in exchange for joining their growing cardiovascular unit -- a strategy that won them 12 nurses.
What the Future Holds
Part of the problem is that nursing schools are producing fewer graduates. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, enrollment in bachelor's programs has declined steadily for the last five years, shrinking 5% last fall from the previous year. Nurses under the age of 30 make up less than 10% of the national total, and the number is expected to decrease in the next 10 years. If the nursing profession fails to attract more people, hospitals will face a staff shortage at the same time that the estimated 78 million baby boomers will be nearing Medicare age, according to the June 14 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Federal officials, along with nursing groups, warn that a severe shortage will begin in 2010, when today's nurses, whose average age is 44, are expected to retire. By 2020, the nation will be 20% short of the amount of registered nurses it will require. The JAMA study said, "Because (registered nurses) are vital in ensuring access to and quality of health care, it is critical that policymakers understand and develop appropriate responses to the implications of a rapidly changing workforce" (Luke, 8/3).
Utah Shortage Expected to Worsen
Though nursing schools in Utah are receiving more applicants than they are able to accept, the state still faces its own shortage. But local health care providers agree that Utah is in "better shape" than many other parts of the nation. The incentives and perks offered to nurses in certain pockets of the country have proven to be rare in Utah, though last year one hospital reportedly offered a $2,000 signing bonus, and Intermountain Health Care financed 20 nursing scholarships. State Hospitals report that recruitment this year has been more successful than last year, though administrators are still cautious about the future (Collins, Deseret News, 8/3).