TAN Issue: March/April 2000: Features: NY Faces RN Shortage in Specialties

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NYSNA measures take aim at overall supply

A study commissioned by the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) on the state's registered nurse workforce shows that a nursing shortage not only already exists within specialty areas, but it also threatens to affect the general RN supply.

"Without a stable RN workforce, we cannot hope to meet a goal of quality health care for all New Yorkers," said Karen Ballard, RN, director of NYSNA's Practice and Governmental Affairs program. "We conducted this study to get a picture of the current and future trends in nursing employment. We learned that unless we take swift and effective action, we are likely to confront another RN shortage like the one that plagued the health care system in the late 1980s."

The clearest signs of a current shortage are in the specialty areas, such as critical care, the operating room and the emergency department, said NYSNA member Carol Brewer, PhD, RN, one of two nurse researchers who conducted the study. Thirty percent of private-sector hospitals in the New York City area reported that it took three months or more to fill such positions. Many rural hospitals reported similar difficulties.

Brewer and her co-researcher, NYSNA member Christine Kovner, PhD, RN, FAAN, encountered a troubling lack of consistent and timely data on the RN workforce. The most recent statewide data were collected in 1995, and the National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses was last done in 1996.

"An initiative to improve the adequacy of data about RNs and their work patterns would help the market shorten its reaction time to fluctuations in supply and demand," Brewer said.

Based on the report's findings, NYSNA developed recommendations to ensure a stable and adequate RN workforce. They include creating:

* support from government and educational institutions for nursing scholarships and funding to recruit and retain qualified nursing faculty

* initiatives to encourage students from culturally diverse backgrounds to enter the profession

* support for health care facilities that provide clinical placements and preceptors for nursing students

* promotion of a safe and supportive work environment to prevent burnout, such as safe staffing levels and latex allergy prevention

* collection and reporting of data related to nursing care, including nurse-patient ratios and nursing care quality indicators, such as patient complications.

NYSNA will hold a roundtable meeting April 25 with policy-makers, consumer groups and other health care organizations to develop a mutual strategy to prevent the nursing shortage from becoming more serious.

For more information on "A Report on the Supply and Demand for Registered Nurses in New York State," call 518- 782-9400, ext. 282, or check NYSNA's website, www.nysna.org.

Statewide commission would tackle Maryland nursing shortage

The Maryland Nurses Association (MNA) is promoting the passage of a legislative measure aimed at addressing the nursing shortage currently enveloping its state.

The measure would create a more than 30-member commission that would be charged with both looking at the state's supply and demand of registered nurses and developing strategies to ensure a solid RN workforce in the future.

As the proposal is currently written, the commission would remain in existence for five years, which MNA believes is key to ensuring that devised strategies are implemented and political support is continued, according to MNA Executive Director Kathryn V. Hall, MS, RN.

Although MNA nurses worked with nurse legislators on the House- and Senate-side to help craft the bill, they still have one concern.

"There is the potential for the commission to have only six clinically-based nurses, and we believe that is not a good balance," Hall said. "We want policy-makers to hear from the nurses who are on the front lines every day."

In terms of Maryland's shortage, no practice areas are immune. The number of vacant RN positions statewide has increased from 3 to 9 percent. And, statistics show that 2,000 more nurses left the workforce last year than came in, Hall reported. MNA has been gathering data on the state's workforce, as well as developing initiatives to recruit and retain nurses, as part of the Colleagues in Caring project (see cover story).

"If that trend continues, it will be detrimental to all," she said.

Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening (D) already has thrown his support behind the legislation.