Funding Cuts Compound Nurse Shortage

By and

A state legislative shortfall will compound the already severe nursing shortage in Utah.

Utah ranks third in the nation, behind only Nevada and California, in the severity of its nurse shortage.

With only 592 nurses per 100,000 residents, the number of nurses in Utah has declined by 6.3 percent since 1996. Nationally, the decline has been 2 percent, to 782 nurses per 100,000 population, according to the GAO Report, Nursing Workforce, July 2001.

“We have plenty of qualified students who want to be nurses,” said Maureen Keefe, dean of the College of Nursing, “but we don’t have enough space, faculty or funding to train them.”

The College of Nursing asked the state Legislature for an additional $2.2 million this year so it could expand its ability to train more nurses and nursing instructors to meet the growing need.

The Legislature turned down the request, and the college is forced to cut 4.7 percent from its budget, like most other academic entities at the U. Coupled with additional cuts in enrollment growth funding, the College of Nursing will lose almost 5 percent this year.

According to Keefe, the college will not layoff any faculty or staff, but the college will place a cap on enrollment, which will decrease the number of nurses going into the work force.

The college has a respected baccalaureate program to train nurses, and it also trains nursing instructors.

“The U has the only doctoral program in nursing in the state, and we also offer a master’s of nursing programs in 13 sub-specialties,” Keefe said.

In addition to the nurse shortage, there is an even larger shortage of nursing faculty in Utah and a critical need for “Ph.D.-trained” people to teach them, Keefe said.

There are six public and two private schools of nursing in Utah. The private schools, Brigham Young University and Westminster College, offer master’s of nursing programs in addition to their licensed practical and registered nurse programs.

Nurse executives in acute care hospitals report a vacancy rate of 8 to 10 percent for registered nurse positions. Utah needs 2,000 additional nurses to fill existing vacancies and meet minimum expectations for adequate and safe care, Keefe said.

In addition, the Utah Health Care Association reports a 24 percent vacancy rate and 69 percent turnover rate in long-term care facilities. The current shortage in Utah crosses all sectors of nursing including instructors, hospitals, clinics, long-term care and home care.

Keefe said the problem will only worsen as Utah’s population continues to grow, life spans lengthen and the number of chronic illnesses increase, all of which add to the need for nurses. The national and international nurse shortage limits Utah’s ability to recruit or import nurses.

Nursing student Michael Desjardins was last year’s president of the National Student Nurses Association (NSNA) for the United States. It has 664 chapters and more than 30,000 members.

“It was a neat year to be president because we had the International Council of Nurses meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark, in June 2001,” Desjardins said.

He presented a report in Copenhagen about the state of nursing education, policy, politics and health care issues in the United States.

“It’s really sad that there is such a shortage in the U.S. And it’s even more sad how the funding is being reduced, especially in Utah, when the need is growing so large,” Desjardins said.

His greatest fear is that “because of the nursing shortage, people with lesser licensing and training will end up being primary bedside providers, and that would further dilute our quality of health care in America.”

Erin Beasley, a student in the College of Nursing, just completed her term as Desjardins’ vice president of the NSNA.

“It was a real coup to Utah and the U to have both top-elected officers for the NSNA come from our College of Nursing,” said Sandy Taylor, spokeswoman for the college.

Beasley flew back last week from the NSNA’s national convention in Philadelphia, where she spoke about how nurses can get involved politically and how they can affect health policy. She was chairwoman of the legislation/education committee.

“The nursing shortage is so frightening. People just don’t recognize how significant an impact it will have on their family’s health care,” Beasley said.

She and Desjardins helped put together the Johnson & Johnson Campaign for Nursing’s Future in collaboration with the National League of Nursing.

“We ran a series of ads on TV during and after the Olympics that have created a lot of interest in nursing careers,” Beasley said. “But no nursing program has the capacity to accept more students.”

She said the quality of health care really suffers when you replace nurses with certified nursing assistants or other assistants, and that’s what health care will be forced to do if the United States can’t train enough nurses.

“At the U’s College of Nursing, we had over 170 applicants for 50 openings. Schools just don’t have the capacity to turn out the numbers we need,” Beasley said.

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