Senate Panel Examines Solutions to Nursing Shortage
Nurses and health officials yesterday urged senators to help alleviate the nation's "potentially devastating" nursing shortage, CongressDaily/A.M. reports. Addressing the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee on Aging, members from nurses' organizations and other advocates called on lawmakers to increase funding of existing nurse education programs, to create new programs to recruit and retain nurses, to provide advanced training for nurses and to adopt efforts to boost the nursing workforce. American Nurses Association spokesperson Kathryn Hall told the Senate panel that the nursing shortage stems from a variety of factors, including the lack of students entering the field, the "rapid aging" of the current nursing workforce and the "impending needs of the Baby Boom generation." Linda Hodges, dean of the College of Nursing at the University of Arkansas, added that the field of nursing offers little incentive to attract young people deciding on a career. "Over the past decade, the image of professional nursing has changed from a field that offered many opportunities and high job security to one that holds great uncertainty and difficulty with sometimes dangerous working conditions," she said. She added that nursing students often experience difficulties obtaining loans or scholarships, and that nurses' salaries are often lower than those of other professionals. Subcommittee Chair Tim Hutchinson (R-Ark.) said that he plans to introduce legislation addressing the shortage within the next few weeks (Rovner, CongressDaily/A.M., 2/14). His plan would include grants for nursing scholarships and training programs (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 2/14). Hutchinson aides said that the senator's efforts to boost nursing staff have been receiving "strong interest" from Democrats examining ways to solve the problem (Freking,
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 2/14).
HHS will likely release data on the shrinking nursing workforce today, with figures revealing that between 1996 and 2000, the average age of registered nurses has risen from 44.3 to 45.2 years (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 2/14). And within the coming decade, 40% of nurses will be over age 50, according to the American Organization of Nurse Executives (CongressDaily/A.M., 2/14). The nursing field is also experiencing a decline in nursing school enrollments. Many health officials and nursing experts are currently debating new ways to attract young people into the profession, including increases in scholarship and loan programs for nursing students, "full-scale" efforts to recruit and graduate more nursing majors and increased use of distance-learning technology as a way to improve access to nursing education programs. To recruit and retain more nurses, however, Georgia Nurses Association President Debbie Hatmaker said that issues such as nurses' input in decision-making, salary and support staff levels must also be addressed (Salzer, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 2/14)
In addition, patient care in hospitals and medical centers across the country has suffered as a result of the nursing shortage, the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot reports. In some hospitals, physicians have had to delay elective surgeries because there were only enough nurses to cover patients who needed immediate surgeries. Other hospitals have had to lower the number of patient admissions. Hospitals are experiencing increasing difficulty staffing emergency rooms and intensive care departments. Some patients have had to spend several days in the emergency room because no floor nurses were available to care for them. Nurses are also increasingly overworked -- some report having worked two consecutive eight-hour shifts with little time for a break, while others reported that three or four nurses are sometimes asked to staff an emergency room with nearly 40 patients. Health care experts have predicted that these problems "will become more common" if the shortage worsens. William Ginnow, associate dean for health affairs at Eastern Virginia Medical School, said, "The nursing shortage is going to be a flashpoint. It will change HMO rates, it will change the quality of care, it may even change who does what in the health care team" (Szabo, Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, 1/14).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.