May 30, 2008

NY Solutions to Nursing Shortage

The nursing shortage in the U.S. is at a critical point. There are over 200,000 openings nationwide for nurses and this number is growing day by day. The federal government cap on foreign nurses has been hit, so at the moment, no foreign nurses can immigrate to the U.S.. Canadian & Mexican nurses can enter temporarily on TN (Trade Nafta) Visas, but must intend on going back home.

Other issues include older nurses retiring, burning out, or moving to another country (like my U.S. born sister-in-law who is a nurse practitioner in Guatemala).

Also, there is a serious lack of nursing schools in the U.S..

I hope the federal government comes up with some solutions soon, so the states do not have to! (Randall)

State bills tackle shortage of new nurses

Snyder, Alison
Long Island Business News

A growing shortage of nurses at New York hospitals has the Legislature floating various proposals that include enticing students to enroll in nursing programs.

Albany lawmakers are also proposing laws that improve working conditions, including making it a felony to physically attack a nurse - it's currently a misdemeanor - and eliminating mandatory overtime.

This month, the Health Care Association of New York State released a study that showed the vacancy rate for registered nurses in New York increased to 8.8 percent in 2007, up from 6.4 percent in 2006.

The news is no better on Long Island, said Nassau-Suffolk Hospital Council chief executive Kevin Dahill, who said the shortage is hurting bottom lines at hospitals.

To fill vacant positions, hospitals go to nursing agencies and hire nurses at per diem cost, he said. The cost is almost double what hospitals pay their own nurses, because on top of paying the temp employee, they also pay an agency fee.

Dahill also said the shortage leads to a skeleton staff, which can affect patient care, potentially causing mistakes by overburdened employees. The shortage also creates a backlog of patients, meaning that some are forced to wait for hours before receiving medical attention.

The current nursing shortage dates back to the mid 1990s, after health insurers were deregulated, allowing them to negotiate their own reimbursement prices with hospitals, said Nancy Webber, spokeswoman for the New York State Nurses Association. She blamed poor work conditions for perpetuating the shortage.

Hospitals, meanwhile, said a visa shortage is leading to fewer foreign-born nurses working at regional facilities. Therefore, the council is backing an effort by Sen. Charles Schumer to free up more visas to allow foreign nurses to immigrate to the United States. While that would help, the fix is temporary, Dahill said.

Dahill said a long-term solution to the shortage is a state bill that would help recruit more faculty for nursing schools. That, in turn, would expand capacity at schools.

However, any bills passed by the Legislature would also need the funds to back them, and with the state stretched financially, it could be difficult to find the necessary funds.

This year, the Legislature set aside $2 million in the 2008-2009 budget to give to State University of New York system. Another $3 million was set aside for the City University of New York and private schools throughout the state.

Local schools have applied for some of the already approved cash.

Stony Brook University has applied for $160,000 each year for the next two years to add an additional 16 students to its incoming class, said Lenora McClean, dean of the nursing school.

Neither state funds or new legislation will solve the nursing-shortage crisis, said Maureen White, chief nurse executive at the North Shore-LIJ Health System.

North Shore - LIJ took matters into its own hands, and that's why their vacancy rate is at 4.4 percent, half the state average.

In 1999, North Shore-LIJ started providing opportunities for nurses to participate in research programs. Also, the system pays tuition for nurses who want to earn higher degrees.

The health system spends $5 million annually on continuing education programs for staff and another $5 million for nurses to attend school and get their bachelor's, master's or even doctorate in nursing.

The health system recognizes the important role of nurses, she said, and has aimed to create an environment where nurses feel their value.

Hospitals need to look at what they can do to attract and retain nurses, she said, and not wait for legislation to fix the problem. "We believe that for the amounts of money we're spending on these education and research initiatives, we're recouping monies by not having turnover, vacancies, incurring overtime and nursing agency costs," White said. "We believe it's a break even or a gain by having these programs in place." Alison Snyder can be reached at

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