Utah suffering severe nurse shortage

Nurses Activism


Specializes in Vents, Telemetry, Home Care, Home infusion.

Problem likely to get worse in next few years

By James Thalman

Deseret News staff writer


A nursing shortage here labeled "not that bad" this spring apparently has gotten a lot worse over the summer.

Only Nevada and California have a more critical shortage than Utah, where hospitals are averaging 50 to 70 vacant positions, according to the Utah Nurses Association. Things are expected to get worse in the next five years as at least three new care facilities come on line and more nurses retire.

Besides somehow making up the current shortage, at least 450 licensed or degreed nurses are needed just for the new positions, and at least 850 more are needed to fill vacancies created by those who will leave the profession in the next few years, said nurse and legislative lobbyist Rebecca Richards.

"We need more nurses than what the nine colleges here can even produce," Richards said. "Besides that, we've got a critical shortage in the number of faculty members to teach them."

Nationally, there are 792 nurses per 100,000 people. In Utah, that ratio is 592 nurses per 100,000, she said. "And we're quickly losing a lot of them."

This past spring, nursing educators and recruiters were saying the shortage was worse in other parts of the country.

But Maureen Keefe, the new dean of the College of Nursing at the University of Utah who came from South Carolina, said that state considers itself in a nursing crisis because it only has 30,000 nurses in a state with 1.5 million people. Utah has 2.2 million people and 17,000 nurses. She believes the scope of the nursing shortage is international.

How does Utah suddenly find itself with a nurse shortage?

The nursing profession follows a cycle, Richards said. The current one has been spinning down since the glut of nurses in 1994 and the inception of managed care.

The shortage stems from the lack of interest in the profession combined with inherent cost containment of managed care, Richards said. Nurses are generally overworked and are delegating a lot of responsibility to skilled assistants, she said.

"Nursing care used to be one nurse to one or two or three patients," Richards said. "Now, it's one nurse for one to five assistants."

The number of bad-care complaints by patients has been increasing as the number of nurses has been declining, she said.

Lack of nursing is ultimately a problem for patients, she said. Richards and other nursing advocates have said many hospitals have gotten so bottom-line-oriented and short on nurses that hospitals pretty soon won't be hospitals.

The average starting salary for nurses with associate's degrees ranges from $11.50 to $16.35 per hour. The average beginning pay for nurses with bachelor's degrees ranges from $12.60 to $18.

There are plenty of students interested in becoming nurses. The problem is there are too few teachers and not enough space to dramatically increase the numbers, Richards said. The U. takes only about 120 students per year, for example. Utah Valley State College is starting a four-year degree in January, but it will accept only 20 students per year. Weber State University, which enrolls an average of 700 nursing students, is down two faculty members and enrolled 24 fewer students this year.

One way to fix the problem long term is to get more nurses to graduate with master's degrees and in clinical specialties, Keefe said. The solution won't work unless salaries for nurses are increased, however, she added.

An option might be to lure some nurses out of retirement. But that is a short-term answer at best and isn't a viable option for filling the need over the next five to 10 years, Keefe said.

Sen. Peter Knudson, R-Brigham City and a doctor, said perhaps it's time lawmakers consider taking action for nursing similar to the engineering initiative proposed last year by Gov. Mike Leavitt. The Legislature approved a version of the initiative, which is designed to improve education as well as jump-start the economy. It gave state engineering schools money to expand classloads, space and faculty to quickly increase the number of Utahns with graduate degrees in computer science and engineering.

E-MAIL: [email protected]

This article goes to show that the nursing shortage goes beyond geography and demographics.

Utah, I believe is one of those states where the majority of the population is highly educated, skilled, and have most things in common. However, I guess the same attitudes that are prevalent toward nursing in other states prevail there as well. I believe that once again, since nursing is a female dominant profession, there has been no effort to support it financially or socially. Now that the boomers are feeling pain from the shortage and nurses have used the media to our advantage, people in key positions are showing interest in getting on the bandwagon and doing something about staffing shortages. May be too little too late.

I must say, you couldn't pay me enough to work in a state with a history of the kind of oppression towards women that Utah has. I was at a nurse fair a few years ago and the recruiter from Salt Lake said when nurses heard she was from Utah they just laughed and walked away.

Yes, I am sure it is better now and I know that the % of non-Mormons has grown. Still, the spectre of polygamy trials and child brides lingers a long time even if it seems unfair.

Maybe if the LDS church lightened up on women, nurses would feel more comfortable coming to Utah. As always, just MHO.

One way to fix the problem long term is to get more nurses to graduate with master's degrees and in clinical specialties,
The average starting salary for nurses with associate's degrees ranges from $11.50 to $16.35 per hour. The average beginning

The average salary for a newly graduating MBA student is 70k+. Hummmmmmmmmm what's wrong with this picture??? :eek:

Receptionist make more than 11.50 an hour :( :( :(

Why go to school at all!

Everytime I see a story like this it makes me angry. The next thing they will be saying is they need to recruit nurses from overseas!!!

Hi there

The nursing shortage is worldwide. I live in New Zealand and we have a huge crisis on our hands. One major hospital has 250 vacancies. We are having to recruit from overseas, but money is hardley a lure !

I was out of nursing for 4 years (extended maternity leave!) I have just returned to a hospital on their bureau.. They are very flexible with the hours. I usually do 6-11pm. Suits me well.

When I graduated in 92 I couldnt get a job anywhere here, there were no jobs for new grads, I had to go to Australia to get some experience. What a huge turn around !

I am on $20 per hour. How does that compare to others hourly rates?



:) :) :)

Astragirl, when it comes to comparing incomes from one area to another, a lot depends on the cost of living in that particular area. SUPPOSEDLY, if you are not spending more than 1/3 on your rent/mortgage that's good. If unfortunately you live in some areas spending 50% or more, it is not. There are some areas like NYC where to rent an apartment you need to make 40 times the amount of rent (i.e. for a $1000 apartment, you need to show that you are making at least $40,000).

I'm not sure what your exchange rate is, so it is hard to garner whether you are getting more for your $20/hr or less.

Looks like the nursing shortage is being felt in alot of countries.

Here in The netherlands it has come to the point where surgeries are being postponed and complete nursingwards are shut down because of no nurses to staff them. Not long ago we had a major disaster and numerous victims had to be admitted to hospitals in neighbouring countries like belgium and germany where they also are dealing with a shortage.

Hospitals were recruiting nurses from south-africa and surinam but legislation put a stop to that because those countries are experiencing a shortage too and recruiters have are now activly recruiting nurses from the philipines. So now we have the US , England, The Netherlands, Australia and who knows wich other countries looking for nurses in the Philipines won't that eventually create a gap there? From what I've heard there are 40 philipino nurses being trained in the dutch language and are ready to start in a few months and more to come.

All help is welcome, it gets hard doing a nightshift as only RN on a surgical unit with 25 patients and a nursingstudent to assist.

I've applied for licensure in the States and hope conditions there are better then they are here.:confused:

I'm not sure if you will find the conditions in the states any better. The facility where I work has contracted to bring 30 nurses over from the Phillipines. No one seems concerned that pursing this policy may be depleting an extremely important human resource for that country.

This policy also circumvents the real issues that have created the shortage. Improved staffing and wages would attract more of our own people into the profession. But it would also increase the cost of health care. Which everyone is extremely reluctant to do.

Historically nursing shortages of the past have been tied to the state of the economy. It will be interesting to see if history repeats with the recent down turn in the economy in the US, and rising unemployment rate. will candidates start flocking into the nursing profession?

What is wrong with the attitudes in this thread?

First of all, we seem to have some real misconceptions regarding Utah. Most people would not want to leave families and areas they are familar with to go to a state we consider almost as cold as Alaska. I really don't beleive it has anything to do with the history of the LDS. Consider this, I could be wrong but, I think that Utah or at least that area, maybe wyoming was one of the first states to give women the vote. And Pleeeeaaaasssseeeee, poligomy is not that prevailant. NO I AM NOT FROM UTAH OR A LDS. Just a history buff that is also a nurse.

And as far as the overseas question, I have heard that is very difficult to come into nurse here from another country. But after watching major news programs, and my own demographics in my own little piece of geography, we do seem to be stealing Doctors, because our own do not want to practice in small towns where they can't make 6 digit plus incomes.

I would submit that it is not the nurses that are going to make the cost of health care go up, but instead it is the management, suppliers, Doctors, diagnostics, all those 4,6,8,+ year consultations needed to tell us what we already know is best for our patients "because they have the degrees". We are the chosen REDHEADED STEP CHILDREN because we care and are providing the care causing OT costs. The other problem in my facility causing OT is co-workers (nurses whom are supposed to be responsible) deciding "Gee, I don't want to go to work today, or I have a hang-nail, or other excuses" and call in. I have never worked anywhere before were this was tolerated. The response from our facility seems to be "you have had this many tardies or days of call-ins, so we are going to give you a couple of days off". Make sense to you? Not to me, who comes to work every day I'm scheduled. They didn't care enough about their bottom dollar to come to work in the first place, why would a little less money matter later?

I have not seen to many BSN's (forgive me for this one all of you good BSN's reading this) actually get out on the floor and wipe a butt or hold an emisis basis. So why worry about the nursing shortage on the top side first.

Give us some incentives like retirements, retirement health beni's, sign-on bonuses that have some teeth in them, and wages that really make us want to come to work and stay.

Thanks for letting me VENT!!!!!!

Wyoming was the first state to go for women's suffrage. It most certainly was not Utah.

My first degree was in Women's History; it hardly ever comes in handy until discussions like this. I'd be hard pressed to point to one achievement for women that came from Utah.

Please go back and read my post....I didn't say it was always fair, but the LDS curch is quite reactionary on the topic of women. There are estimated to be over 30,000 polygamists in Utah and surrounding states. Tom Green was just convicted and is to stand trial for child rape of one of his wives who was a minor when she conceived.

I think the aura a state projects can very well affect the attitudes of people who might move there.

You couldn't pay me to move to Utah. And that is what the recruiter I mentioned in my post found out. Just my opinion.

Surely removed original, posted in wrong thread.

My first nursing position was in Burn/trauma icu at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah and I could not have asked for a nicer experience. I was a new nurse, new wife and hundreds of miles from home. Talk about stress. Plus ,I'm from the south where we have our own problems with predjudice, so I didnt know what to expect. The hospital was top notch, my orientation was excellent (much better than anything I've received back home) and the people were very friendly and accepting. I had heard the same stories re:LDS and was cautious but everyone was great. People went out of their way to help us and boy did they love our accent. We eventually moved back home and I am glad we did , but SLC will always be a special place for me. Bottom line, don't knock a state until you tried it -you just might like it. Nicki

+ Add a Comment