Sunday, June 6, 2004
Holland, Zeeland staying ahead of the nurse shortage
Aggressive recruiting helps keep numbers up
By CAMILLA LEIKVOLL
Special to The Sentinel
While a national nursing shortage is paralyzing many health care facilities around the country, local hospitals have largely escaped the growing problem with proactive recruitment and efforts to create better working environments.
"We could have been in a similar situation to the other hospitals," said Carolyn Schaefer, medical and surgical unit and critical care director at Holland Community Hospital. "It all depends on the environment you provide. If you treat them (nurses) right, they'll come."
The reasons behind the national shortage include an aging population that increases the demand for medical professionals, a decline in the number of nursing graduates and an aging pool of registered nurses.
Michigan has not been hit as hard as many other states, and currently does not have a significant registered nurses shortage, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. But a July 2002 Health and Human Services report predicts that 7 percent of the state's nursing positions will go unfilled because of a shortage of candidates by the year 2010, 22.1 percent by 2020.
And even today, nurses are struggling to provide proper patient care with fewer nurses available.
"When I worked at another hospital, the RNs would run their (rear ends) off," said Lori Hinken, an emergency room registered nurse at Zeeland Community Hospital.
However, with West Michigan's ample supply of nursing schools, local hospital officials say they have access to a consistent pool of candidates.
"We're fortunate in that we have a lot of quality schools in the area," said Patti VanDort, vice president of nursing at Holland Community Hospital.
The hospital receives numerous applications from graduates of Grand Valley State University and Hope College, she said.
"We get the cream of the crop," VanDort said.
In 2001, Holland Community Hospital experienced an increase in turnover, with several nurses retiring. With a number of other nurses nearing retirement age, the hospital moved to head off a shortage, hiring a health care recruiter responsible for recruiting nurses and establishing ties with schools to ensure a steady flow of candidates coming into the hospital -- and staying there.
"Turnover is very much related to the relationship with management," said Janet Anderson, Holland Hospital health care recruiter.
Both hospitals have established programs in which nurses can communicate directly with management about concerns. At Holland, management-staff meetings are held every two months and nurse educators are employed to mentor new employees. Zeeland Hospital has similar programs to ensure that both transition and future employment terms are satisfactory. Anderson said Holland Community Hospital has kept its annual turnover rate at 8 percent, well below the 12 percent rate considered acceptable by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Zeeland's turnover rate is even lower at around 5 percent for RNs, said Elissa Stormo-Hoffman, the hospital's nursing recruiter.
And this is key, since it can cost a hospital $60,000 in overtime pay and recruitment expenses before it even has a replacement nurse in the building, VanDort said.
Though both Holland and Zeeland hospitals currently have enough candidates for RN positions, the future might be more uncertain. Both hospitals have refocused recruiting efforts toward what they consider their main challenge -- dealing with future retirements on the nursing staff.
"Four years ago, the average age of our nurses was around 48, 49 years old," said Jane Czerew, Zeeland Community Hospital's vice president of nurses. "This started some active recruitment ... and the average age is now 37 years."
One of the challenges in creating a younger nursing corps is ensuring that new graduates pass the increasingly difficult licensing exam, said Phyllis Gendler, dean of the Kirkhof School of Nursing at Grand Valley.
"Passing the exam is getting tougher and tougher," Gendler said. "There were 140,000 failures across the nation last year."
Gendler said that though there was a national decrease in interest in nursing in the 1990s, the job security and benefits are drawing people back into the profession.
The increased interest prompted the Kirkhof School to increase admission to three times a year.
"It's predicted that we're going to need 1 million nurses by 2010. For people looking for a job in the service profession, it's a no-brainer," Gendler said. "And it's a wonderful profession. Iit's both challenging and rewarding."
Nurses will have no problem finding jobs in the near future, Gendler said.
Instead, nurses are in a much better position today than in the past to negotiate employment terms, something the hospitals have to cater to through pay and shift settlement and allowing recent graduates to enter a specialty wards like obstetrics/ gynecology and surgical units.
"Ten years ago we would never hire new graduates in a specialty, but now we do," Schaefer said.