Health experts pushA statewide shortage of nurses will have catastrophic effects if nothing is done to correct the problem, representatives from Hawaii's health care industry told the House Health Committee yesterday.
solutions to states
One possibility urged is aid
for nursing schools and facilities
By Lyn Danninger
Chairman Dennis Arakaki (D, Kamehameha Heights-Kalihi Valley) acknowledged that there has been little done in past legislative sessions to address the state's nursing shortage.
"I don't think we did a whole lot in terms of responding to the issue," he said.
Yesterday's session was to identify problems and generate ideas that could be developed into effective legislation in time for the next full session, Arakaki said.
Stephani Monet, Hawaii Nurses Association director of education and practice, said national studies show the nursing shortage will peak in 2010.
"Nursing shortages are already being felt in specialty areas such as the operating room, the emergency room, obstetrics and kidney dialysis," she said.
In a recent informal survey of five major health care facilities on Oahu, Monet said she found there are about 150 job openings for registered nurses at those facilities alone.
While nursing shortages in the past were primarily economic in nature, there are now other factors at work, Monet said, including an aging nursing work force, decreased enrollments in nursing schools, a negative image of the nursing profession and poor working conditions.
Monet called for scholarship and loan programs for nursing students and nursing educators. She also asked for money to assist both nursing schools and health care facilities that have in recent years incurred substantial costs mentoring new nurses. Because of those costs, many hospitals have had to either eliminate or cut back the number of new graduates they are willing to take on, she said.
With the shortage of nurses now worldwide, legislators were told they can no longer rely on the importation of so-called "fliers" -- nurses from the mainland and overseas countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada who have been recruited to cover previous shortages.
Richard Meiers, president of the Hawaii HealthCare Association, representing the state's hospitals, said since Sept. 11, even fewer would likely want to relocate.
"It's difficult enough now," he said. "People don't want to leave home, so it's hard even to get fliers."
Meiers estimates that Hawaii would need to graduate at least 400 nurses a year to keep pace with the growing shortages. "Currently we graduate 280," he said.
Meiers acknowledged that many of Hawaii's hospital nurses are unhappy with issues such as workloads and mandatory overtime. Without some help from the government, those problems will continue, he said.
Moreover, national studies show that inadequate levels of nurse staffing and quality of care are directly related, he said.
Representatives from long-term care facilities, faced with an explosion of elderly patients in the near future as baby boomers age, also called for increased Medicaid reimbursements.
"With 80 percent to 85 percent of skilled nursing facility residents on Medicaid, reimbursements are terrible. That really leaves facilities at a disadvantage," said Bob Ogawa, president of the Hawaii Long Term Care Association.
As a first step to address the nursing shortage, many of those who attended yesterday's briefing urged legislators to appropriate funds for a nursing center that can start collecting data and begin to coordinate information about the shortage.