US raises alarm over nursing shortage

The United States is experiencing a deep nursing shortage that is expected to further intensify in the face of the increasing need for health care primarily because of the aging American population.

The shortage is compounded by the fact that nursing colleges and universities across the country, struggling to expand enrollment levels, have not been producing the number of graduates to meet the demand.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), there is indeed a deep shortage of Registered Nurses (RNs) in the US and it is thus working with schools, policy makers, and other organizations as well as the media to bring attention to this “health care crisis.”

The AACN, working to enact legislation, identify strategies, and form collaborations to address the nursing shortage has released a Fact Sheet of the problem which includes the following points as among the current and projected shortage indicators:

* In April 2006, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), in its report entitled, “What is Behind HRSA’s Projected Supply, Demand, and Shortage of Registered Nurses?”, estimated that the nation’s nursing shortage would grow to more than one million nurses by the year 2020, and that all 50 states would experience a shortage of nurses to varying degrees by the year 2015;

* In July 2007, the report: “State of America’s Hospitals – Taking the Pulse” produced by the American Hospital Association, said hospitals needed approximately 116,000 RNs to fill vacant positions nationwide, noting that this translated into a national RN vacancy rate of 8.1 percent;

* In July 2008, the American Health Care Association released its report which showed that more than 19,400 RN vacancies existed in long-term care settings, which, combined with the 116,000 open positions in hospitals reported by the American Hospital Association, brought the total RN vacancies in the U.S. to more than 135,000;

* In a July/August 2009 article in Health Affairs, authors led by Dr. Peter Buerhaus, Valere Potter Distinguished Professor of Nursing and Director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Health Workforce Studies of the Institute for Medicine and Public Health at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, warned that the US nursing shortage is projected to grow to 260,000 registered nurses by 2025, a shortage twice as large as any nursing shortage experienced in the US since the mid-1960s.

The AACN’s fact sheet noted some of the pressing contributing factors impacting the nursing shortage, namely, that:

* Nursing school enrollment is not growing fast enough to meet the projected demand for RNs;

* A shortage of nursing school faculty is restricting nursing program enrollments; and,

* The average age of the Registered Nurse is climbing.

The AACN likewise presented some strategies being pushed to address the nursing shortage, such as the following:

* In June 2005, the US Department of Labor awarded more than $12 million in grant-funding through the President’s High Growth Job Training Initiative, $3 million of which would help address the nurse faculty shortage, bringing the Department’s commitment to health care workforce through the High-Growth program to more than $43 million;

* In September 2008, the state of Pennsylvania announced its investment of $750,000 to address the nursing shortage, to be matched by at least $870,000 in private-sector funds which, combined, would be used to hire more nurse faculty and educate more students;

* In February 2009, academic and healthcare leaders from 47 states gathered in Baltimore for the 2009 Nursing Education Capacity Summit to help identify and advance strategic solutions to the nursing shortage, highlighting best practices related to strategic partnerships and resource alignment; policy and regulation; increasing faculty capacity and diversity; and redesigning educational curricula;

* Also in February 2009, Senator Richard Durbin introduced the Nurse Education, Expansion and Development Act (NEED Act) which aimed to amend Title VIII to authorize Capitation Grants (formula grants) for nursing schools to increase the number of faculty and students; and that,

* In November 2008, Shenandoah University in Virginia announced its partnership with Inova Health System regarding the latter’s scholarship awards and contribution of $500,000 to fund new classrooms, skills/simulation laboratories and/or administrative spaces and provide additional clinical rotation slots at three Inova hospitals.

Apart from the reforms and improvements being pushed for the nursing education sector, some measures have also been recommended regarding other strategies to address the nursing shortage.

Earlier, in December 2008, the Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security forwarded its recommendation: “Improving the Processing of Schedule A Nurse Visas” to facilitate the processing of entry of foreign nurses, noting that “The United States faces a nursing shortage crisis that negatively impacts the quality of patient health care. USCIS should make efforts to process Schedule A nurse applications as expeditiously as possible.”



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