Fewer nurses still getting job done

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 4, 1999

Although regional care facilities may not be fully staffed, officials say patients are still getting the care they need.

Thursday, November 04, 1999

Although regional care facilities may not be fully staffed, officials say patients are still getting the care they need. But others warn the shortage of nurses statewide will most likely continue.

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&uot;There are some openings, but we don’t think the situation is critical,&uot; said Tonia Lauer, an administrator at Albert Lea Medical Center. &uot;Our care is not compromised.&uot;

According to Lauer, ALMC has several openings to replace nurses who have retired. And the most challenging is finding someone to fill the night shift.

Covering that shift is a challenge for others as well. Tim Samuelson of St. John’s Lutheran Home is also looking for a nursing supervisor to fill the 3 to 11 shift. But that takes much of the time an RN has to spend with his or her family.

While national projections show nursing to be the fourth highest growth occupation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fewer are entering the field. A 21 percent increase in RN employment is predicted – 17.5 percent in Minnesota – but enrollments continue to drop in all degree programs.

However, enrollments in Riverland Community College’s two-year degree program are &uot;holding steady,&uot; Pat Parsons, director of nursing at the college, said. She and area recruiters hope the two-year degree will help alleviate the demand in the area.

&uot;Four-year degrees are more expensive, but there’s not much difference in pay,&uot; Parsons said. &uot;RNs with a bachelors degree have more options and opportunity for advancement, but there’s a move in the state to make it easier for RNs to move from associate degrees to baccalaureate degrees.&uot;

Minnesota State Colleges and Universities’ nursing articulation agreement was set up among programs so that &uot;a program at one level serves as the foundation for the next educational level.&uot;

So the 34 credits earned for Riverland’s two-year degree can be used for Winona State’s four-year, 68 credit degree. Riverland students can even take the advanced classes at the Austin campus via distance learning.

Although MnSCU’s articulation agreement and distance learning at Riverland are meant to entice more students to enter the field, Samuelson said the shortage is bound to get worse.

&uot;It definitely helps having a college with an RN program, but it’s still going to get worse,&uot; Samuelson said. He points to a general labor shortage as the root of the problem.

&uot;It has nothing to do with money,&uot; Samuelson said. St. John’s as well as other care facilities in the area offer competitive wages; others have signing bonuses. &uot;It’s hard work – physically and emotionally challenging.&uot;

Another problem the nursing home and others face, according to Samuelson, is the increase in businesses that are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

&uot;We used to be unique in operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But now we have lots of businesses that do that. All that takes people,&uot; Samuelson said. &uot;It’s good progress for the community, but it takes from the labor pool.&uot;

Not only is the pool of RNs getting smaller, they’re getting older.

&uot;Nurses are aging faster than the rest of the work force,&uot; Parsons said. &uot;The average age of a worker is 36. The average age of an RN is 45.&uot;

The National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses supports Parsons’ analysis.

They also note that the entry level age has risen sharply. The average age upon graduation from basic RN training is 31.

Officials from the Minnesota Nursing Association said the staffing shortages and concerns are widespread throughout the state and aren’t limited to any one hospital, system or region.

They also added that while some patients have a reason to be concerned, ”They don’t need to be scared out of their pants yet, though. Nurses are filling the gap,&uot; said Katheren Koehn, MNA president and a nurse at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis.