SAN DIEGO: Nursing Shortage Hits Hospitals Hard
Plagued by a shortage of registered nurses, hospital administrators in the San Diego region are struggling to fill hundreds of vacancies, particularly in specialty areas, such as critical care and operating rooms, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. Judith Yates of the Healthcare Association of San Diego and Imperial Counties said that hospitals and clinics "are all having trouble recruiting the level of nursing they that need." California has the lowest national proportion of registered nurses per 100,000 residents -- 566 compared to the national average of 798 -- and the situation could get worse as the state's population balloons. Experts attribute the national and regional shortages to a number of factors, including low salaries and high-pressure work environments. According to the California Board of Registered Nursing, the average statewide salary for nurses in 1997 hovered around $45,000. That level of pay indicates that nurses who have a bachelor's or master's degree do not earn as much as other professions with similar education levels, according to United Nurses Association of California economist Bill Rouse. To remedy the problem, directors of Scripps hospital system, which has 240 vacant full- and part-time nursing positions, recently agreed to spend $5.5 million annually to raise nurses' pay. In addition, nurses at UCSD Medical Center recently negotiated increases in salaries that ranged from $36,900 to $54,444 under the old contract. But, Yates noted that "it isn't just about salary issues." UCSD Med Center nurse Charles Hurley explained that nurses' workload is "overwhelming," as they are often assigned to more and sicker patients. Yates said, "These people who are qualified have a lot of options on where they work and some opt to go to an environment that is not as stressful." Other reasons for the shortage include an aging nursing work force, thousands of nursing layoffs in the 1990s and program cutbacks by nursing schools in recent years. Nursing advocates say increased funding for training, as well as better pay and working conditions will help curb the shortage. A statewide committee is drafting recommendations on the matter (Kucher, 6/1).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.