State-Employed Nurses Say New Staffing Ratio Rules, Low Pay Will Add to Shortage
Nurses employed by the California government say that new state-mandated nurse-to-patient ratios will "decimate" the state nursing staff, as higher-paying private hospitals are expected to "raid" the state staff to comply with the regulations, the Sacramento Bee reports. Without an increase in nursing salaries, the shortage of nurses working at public hospitals and with veterans, the mentally ill, youth offenders and state prisoners could result in "worse care" for those in the state's charge, nurses say. According to Joanne Spetz, associate director of the Center for California Health Workforce Studies at the University of California-San Francisco, 21% of public nursing positions are vacant, compared with a vacancy rate of 10% to 15% in the private sector. On average, nurses employed in the private sector earn about $500 more a month than state nurses. The Bee reports that while the state has offered a recruitment and retention bonus for some nursing positions, it has not increased its offer to raise nurses' salaries 5% over the next two years. Judy Duenow, a nurse at Napa State Hospital, said, "We need a pay raise to keep people. If there is no pay raise, they are out of here -- and I don't know what we are going to do." The Bee reports that both the private sector and the state have launched "aggressive" recruitment campaigns to encourage students to study nursing. Shortly after announcing the new nurse-to-patient ratios in January, Gov. Gray Davis (D) launched a $60 million initiative with the goal of training 5,100 nurses over the next three years (Fletcher, Sacramento Bee, 3/17).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.