Nurse shortage reported

Health officials fear lack of care for the aging baby boom generation.
Tuesday, August 12, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:16 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

The nation’s supply of nurses is decreasing and many in the health industry fear there will not be enough nurses to care for the aging baby boomer population, according to a report issued by the Missouri Hospital Association.

The report, released July 30, says the number of health care workers, including nurses, entering the workforce across the nation will be cut in half by 2030, but the 65 and older patient population will continue to demand more services. While some local hospitals are having trouble filling vacant nursing positions, hospital officials say that fewer nurses does not mean there will be lower quality of care for baby boomers or other patients.

The shortage of nurses across the nation also comes from a decrease in nursing school enrollments, according to the report.

The association surveyed nurses and other health care workers in about 140 hospitals across Missouri for the last three years to compile the report, Becker said.

MU Health Care spokesman Maurice Manring said the shortage in registered nurses reported by the association reflects the organization’s nursing vacancy.

MU Health Care currently has 37 full-time and part-time nursing vacancies, with 1,087 full-time and part-time nurses currently employed, said Monica Moore, media relations coordinator for the health system.

Lynn Hostetler, spokesman for Boone Hospital Center, said there is potential for the hospital’s baby boomer population to outgrow its health care workers and affect patient services, but that’s not happening right now.

“At the moment I would not characterize our situation as having a nursing shortage at Boone,” Hostetler said.

The hospital has 25 nursing vacancies, with 25 full-time and part-time nurses currently employed.

Hostetler and Manring both said their organizations are working to keep competitive salaries and a good working environment for nurses and other health care workers.

With this, hospitals are also placing more emphasis on recruiting, but it isn’t helping much, Becker said.

For Missouri, the registered-nurse vacancy rate increased from 10 percent in 2001 to 10.6 percent in 2003, Becker said, meaning that means almost 2,400 nurses are currently needed.

Nationally, most registered and licensed practical nurses are 40 to 49 years old, according to the report. This “compounds the problem,” Becker said, since that group will most likely retire the earliest and won’t be replaced by as many nurses.

Becker said another reason for the nursing shortage is that more nursing students are not graduating, and more nursing graduates are not passing the state licensing examination. Both students and graduates are ill-prepared in math and science, she said, something that high schools and nursing schools need to put more attention towards.

However, Rose Porter, dean of MU’s Sinclair School of Nursing, said the school’s students do not reflect the association’s statement that students are ill-prepared. Nursing students in their sophomore year have a rigorous math and science program, giving them a strong foundation in math and science by their junior year, she said.

The average rate of MU nursing students who pass the state licensing examination is about 92 percent, Porter said.

To increase capacity, the school has started a new 15-month accelerated program for graduates who have a bachelor’s degree in art, humanities or science and want a nursing degree, Porter said. This will help put more nurses into the workforce, she said.

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