Hospitals, educators fret state's nursing shortage

  1. Large number of retirements expected as baby boomers age

    South Carolina ranks in the bottom 10 states in the nation for nurse-to-population ratios, according to information from the Census Bureau.

    As Horry and Georgetown county hospitals expand to accommodate a growing retiree population, experts expect a widespread nursing shortage to hamper immediate and future efforts to find qualified nurses.

    Registered nurse retirements are expected to peak this decade, while job openings already are above average and are expected to increase, according to the Texas Nurses Association. That will affect the number of practicing nurses as well as faculty members who train the next generation's nurses. Without solutions to these problems, patient care ultimately will suffer, a health care expert said.

    "Baby boomers are going to be retiring, and a lot of baby boomers are nurses," said Gail Moss, director of health and safety services for Horry County Schools. "We don't have enough young people coming into the field."

    In Horry and Georgetown counties, about 17 percent of nurses fall in the 50-54 age range, more than in any other age range.

    The large number of baby boomer retirees means more people in need of hospital services and fewer nurses to take care of them.

    The Pee Dee region is particularly affected because it's a popular destination for retirees. Census 2000 figures show 15 percent of the population in the region to be 65 or older, compared with about 12 percent in the rest of the state.

    "The shortage is sort of a multifaceted problem," said Ruth Seigler, senior nurse consultant for the Center of Nursing Leadership at the University of South Carolina. "It's probably always going to be with us, but I think it's a little bit more challenging at this time because we have an increasing senior population."

    South Carolina ranks in the bottom 10 states in the nation for nurse-to-population ratios, according to the Census Bureau. Within the state, the Pee Dee region ranks lowest in that ratio, according to 2003 S.C. Budget and Control Board statistics.

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