February 1, 2002
By GARRET CONDON, Courant Staff Writer
Nurses who work at state institutions called on the state Thursday to re-negotiate their contract to increase salaries, improve working conditions and expand educational opportunities as a way to recruit and retain nurses amid a nationwide nursing shortage.
The state faces a substantial budget deficit, and it's not clear whether the Rowland administration would consider re-opening the four-year contract that went into effect last July. Marc S. Ryan, secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, which negotiates such contracts, did not return a call asking for comment.
"The state needs to address this nursing shortage as other health care providers in the state are," said Eleanor Prouty, research director for the New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199. She presented data on nursing at an informational hearing of the Labor and Public Employees Committee with the Public Health Committee and the Select Committee on Work Force Development.
Prouty's figures - largely taken from a 2000 study of the nurse workforce - showed that nearly a quarter of the state's nurses don't currently work in the field. The data also show that ranks of registered nurses are disproportionately white, that demand for nurses far outstrips the foreseeable supply and that inadequate staffing, overloaded overtime and high stress are chasing nurses from the profession.
She said that nurses who work for the state often care for the sickest of the sick in facilities that have been hard-hit by the nursing shortage, and that they earn less than nurses working at private institutions.
Dan Strahinich, vice president and political director of the health care workers union, suggested that the contract be reworked to make it easier to find and keep nurses. He also said state institutions could conduct in-house classes to help nurses' aides become nurses, as one way to stem the current shortage.