Tuesday, October 9, 2001
Bush: Nurse shortage a priority
TALLAHASSEE - Florida needs more nurses - and a lot of them, Gov. Jeb Bush said Monday, urging health care leaders to figure out how to attract more people to the profession and promising his support.
"There are a significant percentage of nurses that are over the age of 50," Bush told reporters. He had just spoke at a meeting on the state's nursing shortage sponsored by the Florida Hospital Association and the Florida Nurses Association.
And there aren't enough people joining the nursing profession to fill their shoes, Bush said.
"So we have to accelerate that. We have to do it. It's not a question of whether we have the resources, we just have to put it as a higher priority," he said.
The statistics cited by the governor illustrate the gap:
By 2010, four of every 10 registered nurses in the state will be over the age of 50. But in the 15 years between 1983 and 1998, the number of working registered nurses younger than 30 dropped 44 percent.
The rates of nursing vacancy rates in Florida hospitals are on the rise, climbing from a low of 6 percent in 1995 to 11 percent in 2000 and nearly 16 percent this year. That means about 9,000 positions are unfilled.
By 2006, Florida is projected to need 34,000 additional registered nurses.
Bush said some things can be done without a lot of money - but that despite the tight budget conditions money might still be found for recruitment and retention programs.
A 2001 law expanded a loan-forgiveness program for nursing students and created the Florida Center for Nursing to collect data on the nursing force.
Enrollment in nursing schools is down 20 percent in the last five years - but there still is not enough space in nursing programs in Florida.
Barbara Lumpkin, associate executive director of the Florida Nurses Association, said the profession would ask lawmakers next year to give the Board of Nursing more flexibility to streamline nursing procedures and to reduce tuition for out-of-state students who want to earn master's degrees in nursing.
Lumpkin also suggested the state might want to consider creation of a civil reserve corps of nurses and other health care workers to be called on in the wake of disasters, pointing to both the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States and the needs created by a storm like Hurricane Andrew.