Thursday May 17 5:33 PM ET
Nursing Shortage Reaching Crisis Stage
WASHINGTON (Reuters Health) - The shortage of nurses and nurse aides is rapidly reaching the crisis point and is threatening the quality of patient care, witnesses told a Senate Committee Thursday.
``The public's demand for the highest quality patient care at the lowest possible cost has come face to face with the tightest labor market in the past 30 years,'' Sister Mary Roch Rocklage, testifying on behalf of the American Hospital Association, told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
``For example, government predictions state that the nation will need 1.7 million nurses by 2020. But just more than 600,000 will be available, making up 35% of the nurses that will be needed to care for the people of this nation,'' she said.
Bill Scanlon of the Government Accounting Office told the committee that several factors have combined to create the current shortage. They include the aging of the current nursing workforce and fewer nurses and aides in the training ``pipeline.'' This is due to the availability of better-paying, less stressful occupations, as well as job dissatisfaction that is not only prompting nurses to leave the profession, he said, but ``also discouraging others from joining.''
Although lawmakers have introduced several bills aimed at beefing up recruitment and training of nurses and nurse aides, witnesses said that working conditions must be addressed at the same time. ``There will be no solving today's nurse shortage without improving the overall working conditions of nurses,'' Gerald Shea of the AFL-CIO, told the committee.
``We must challenge the notion that the principle problem is an inadequate supply of nurses, and make sure we pay sufficient attention to the poor working conditions that drive nurses out of the hospital setting,'' Shea said.
Michael Elsas, CEO of Cooperative Homecare Associates of the Bronx, New York, told the committee that the problem is even worse for the home-care aides he employs.
``Direct-care jobs have always been of such poor quality that many paraprofessional workers have long endured poverty-level wages, part-time hours, and no benefits--relegated to the bottom rung of respect within the healthcare workforce hierarchy,'' Elsas testified.
``Now, however, the shortages and high turnover are forcing a downward cycle of deteriorating job quality. Those who do show up are forced to work 'short' or able to offer only 'drive-by home care' as they rush from one home across town to another,'' Elsas said. The nation must start treating its paraprofessional healthcare workforce ``as the scarce resource that it is,'' he added.
Keep up the letter writing campaign to your legislators and newspapers!
May 20, '01
Hi NRSKaren. I caught the end of this hearing on CSPAN the other day. I try to watch CSPAN regularly. I believe a rerun of the hearing is scheduled today around 4:00pm or 04:15pm. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.