We had a great time in Cheyenne this week for Legislative Day 2002. Here is the article in the local paper:
Nurses to discuss state health care woes
By Becky Orr
CHEYENNE - Wyoming's nurses are trained to save lives.
On Wednesday, nurses learned how to improve their industry's health.
Nearly 300 nurses from across Wyoming attended Legislative Days, sponsored by the Wyoming Nurses Association.
Low pay, long hours and shifts, mandatory overtime, and too many patients for each nurse to care for are among the reasons for the severe nursing shortage, they said.
The shortage is so severe that the state Department of Employment predicts that registered nurses will be the second-most needed job by 2008.
But it is a nationwide problem, not specific to Wyoming.
Gov. Jim Geringer outlined the problems in health care when he spoke to the group. Geringer said there is a "critical shortage of just about every type of medical profession."
Wyoming will need 895 more registered nurses by 2008, he said. The state is short 160 licensed practical nurses.
The problem is compounded because the current workforce is getting older, he said.
The average age of a nurse in Wyoming is 48, he said. The age is old enough that Wyoming could lose half of its nurses within the next few years due to retirement.
"We want and appreciate nurses at every level," Geringer said.
The governor advocated efforts to mentor and support beginning nurses to better help them deal with the pressures of the job.
Keeping up with advancements in technology through training is a challenge, he said.
The state now has a workforce training program that provides grants to hospitals to help upgrade skills of their employees, he said.
One woman in the audience asked Geringer how to retain existing nurses. She said the 12-hour shifts many hospitals require are too hard for some older nurses.
"We haven't found a way to directly intervene with hospitals, with the providers that are out there," Geringer said.
To get an idea of Wyoming's health care picture when it comes to nurses, student nurses who plan to leave the state were asked to hold up their hands.
A surprising number of hands went up throughout the large room. Geringer estimated that as many as half of the students raised their hands.
Jill Trevino, 27, is a student nurse at Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne. "I love the medical field," she said during a break in the meeting.
But she added that she probably would move out of state after she gets her degree because other states pay more.
Nancy Jansa is a senior educator at the University of Wyoming. She told Geringer that there needs to be innovative methods to keep people in nursing.
Contacted after the meeting, Jansa said she advocated job sharing or providing day care at the nurses' jobs.
"There should be something to help graduates stay here," she said.
Loretta Wolf is a lobbyist for the Wyoming Nurses Association. She said there are several legislative bills this session that deal with health care and nurses.
Key among them are Senate File 38, aimed at nursing education, and House Bill 60, which would increase Medicaid funding to nursing homes. The bill would increase salaries for health care workers there.
SF38 would loan money to people to get their nursing education. Those who get the loans would not have to pay them back if they agreed to work in the state for a certain number of years.
Nursing teachers also could get loans for higher education. And they would get paid while they went to school.
The bill would cost about $7.7 million for two years.
"I know exactly what you're saying that this does not solve the nursing shortage in Wyoming," Wolf said to the nurses.
But it is important because it addresses future staffing needs.
Without such a measure, the state's economic development would be affected, she said, because health care is an important factor people consider when they decide where to live.
SF38 has passed out of committee and will be rereferred to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
In the future, Wolf said the nurses association will talk to legislators, hospital association members and others about addressing workplace issues.
"We're going to expect some changes in the workplace because this change needs to happen," she said.
HB60 deals with increasing funding for Medicaid reimbursements to nursing homes.
Among other things, the proposed bill would increase salaries for direct care providers who work at nursing homes.
Legislators also met with the nurses during a panel discussion.
Rep. Anne Robinson, D-Casper, said she hopes the nursing education bill would keep nurses in Wyoming.