S.c.: Nursing Shortage To Triple In 13 Years As Population Ages


    Copyright 2002 The Charlotte Observer
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    The Charlotte Observer...03/06/2002


    S.C. health care leaders have to take steps to stem the flow of people from the nursing profession as the need for caregivers grows in the coming decade, according to a new study.

    A six-year study released Tuesday suggests using state money to lure young nursing students, especially males and minorities. The shortages come just as the aging population will be needing more nurses.

    "Inadequate numbers of nurses translate into delays in getting treatment, shifting of care to family members and increased costs for health care services," according to a draft of the report obtained by The (Columbia) State.

    The study drew cooperation from virtually every major S.C. school, agency and medical facility concerned with the need for nurses. Called the Colleagues in Caring Project, it was housed in the University of South Carolina School of Nursing and bankrolled by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation with matching private and public money.

    The state's current shortage of 5,000 nurses is expected to grow to a 15,000-nurse shortage in the next 13 years, said health economist Lynn Bailey, who helped gather research for the project. In the meantime, the state's 65-and-older population is expected to increase 72 percent in the next 18 years. "I'm 50 years old," she said. "This means there will be nobody to take care of me."

    In that aging population will be many nurses - the average age of the state's 33,731 registered nurses is 46 - and nursing instructors - 35 percent of nursing school faculty members are 55 or older.

    Although starting salaries are pretty good - about $ 40,000 a year - the long pressure-packed shifts are driving younger nurses away from hospitals. Although hospitals still employ about 60 percent of all S.C. nurses, the report says 10,000 nurses left hospital jobs for other health care employment between 1994 and 1999.

    "People can work in outpatient settings and know that by 3 in the afternoon, they're done," said Judith Thompson, who heads the S.C. Nurses Association.

    And, as other states begin to fund nursing scholarships and hospitals in other states offer signing bonuses, South Carolina could find itself coming up short in its out-of-state recruiting, which accounts for about half of the new nurses each year.

    Among the report's suggestions for dealing with the shortage:

    *A state-supported center to keep data on nurses and how to increase the work force.

    *A statewide plan to boost nursing education, including more state money for scholarships and nursing faculty, and financial incentives for nurses who agree to work in needy areas and to attract men and minorities.

    Lawmakers agreed there is a need for more nurses, but said there is little the state can do in the upcoming tight budget year.
    "We're desperate for more trained nurses, but there's absolutely no money for it," said state Sen. J. Verne Smith, R-Greer.
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