Haims: Nursing shortage is getting worse as need increases
Why should you care that the United States is in a nursing shortage and it may not let up for another decade?
First and foremost, studies show that there is a direct correlation between patient mortality and nursing shortages. A study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that patient safety incidents were 10-30% better when the patient to nurse ratios are optimal. However, when the patient to nurse ratio is not optimal, odds of patient mortality can increase by much as 40%.
While there are a few parts of the country where nurses are in surplus, most of the country is in dire need of more nurses. In North Dakota, Vermont, Delaware and Wyoming, there are bout 16-20 nurses per 1,000 people.
Here in Colorado, it is estimated we have about 11 nurses per 1,000 people, which is affecting the ability to properly staff our primary care medical offices in addition to acute care hospitals, surgical centers, rehab hospitals, nursing homes and in-home care providers. As these providers feel the crunch, our quality of care will be negatively affected.
There are four major factors contributing to our nursing shortage: retiring nurses, faculty shortages, education costs and limited admissions.
There is a nursing retirement wave currently underway. Based on a Colorado Health Institute survey, 42% of the state’s school of nursing faculty are older than 55 years old; 23% of current faculty indicate they will retire within five years; and 48% indicate they will retire within 10 years.
Nationally, the Health Resources and Services Administration projects that more than 1 million registered nurses will reach retirement age within the next 10 to 15 years.
The nursing faculty shortages across the U.S. are creating a crisis of epic proportions. While there have been many studies, reports and hypotheses about this, it really boils down to money. There are simply insufficient funds for nursing schools to hire faculty.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for nursing instructors and teachers is $69,130. Comparatively, a nurse who has spent years in practice and has earned an advanced practice degree may earn between $80,000 to $100,000 — even more for certain types of practice. What incentive is there for such a nurse to teach? Altruism doesn’t pay the bills.
The cost of nursing education is not cheap. However, when factoring in the current and increasing earning potential, the cost of education is a sound investment. Providing that all the required prerequisite courses have already been met, a Colorado resident wanting a baccalaureate of science degree can expect to pay $10,000 to $28,000 (not including living expenses), depending on whether a public or private school is chosen.
Unfortunately, making the pledge for a nursing degree, both financially and for time commitment, is not the biggest barrier. Admission to a nursing school may be the biggest hurdle. Nationally, 40% of qualified applicants are turned away because nursing schools don’t have enough slots open, said Karren Kowalski, president and CEO of the Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence.
With a population that is aging at a rate never seen before, a constrained labor supply capacity and a large retiring nursing workforce, there is no room for complacency. While international recruitment is providing short-term solutions, it is hardly a sustainable option. Individual states alone cannot properly solve this concern. We must address this issue with a national approach.
Throughout Colorado, many care providers are offering signing bonuses, paid education and advanced training. If we do not quickly find ways to invest resources to resolve this dilemma, many of us who may need advanced care within the next 20 years will struggle to be properly cared for.
If ever there were a time to peer into the future for a career that provides job security and great pay, the time is now to embark on a nursing or care provider career.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. He can be contacted at VisitingAngels.com/comtns or by calling 970-328-5526.