Talent listens to nurses' complaints on shortage

Thursday, December 4, 2003

The federal government needs to help fund nurse recruitment efforts and reduce regulatory paperwork to combat a growing shortage of nurses nationwide, local hospital officials and nurses said Wednesday.

At a meeting with U.S. Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., in Southeast Missouri State University's nursing department in Crisp Hall, officials at Cape Girardeau's two hospitals said they are having trouble filling nursing positions.

"I know there is a tremendous shortage," Talent told the gathering of about 15 nurses, nursing officials and nurse educators. By 2020, the nation could be short 400,000 nurses, he said.

Federal regulations have added to the staffing problem, giving nurses less time to actually attend to patients, local nursing officials told Talent.

Nurses spend about 35 minutes of every hour on duty handling government-mandated paperwork, local nurse administrators said.

Jeannie Fadler, vice president of patient care services at St. Francis Medical Center, said most of the clerical work is "just to jump through the hoops" and isn't needed to properly care for patients.

Karen Hendrickson, chief nursing officer at Southeast Missouri Hospital, said hospitals are losing nurses to private surgery centers and managed care companies that offer Monday through Friday jobs with better hours.

Hospital nurses typically work 12-hour shifts, Hendrickson said. Many local hospital nurses work weekday shifts here and then hire on with private nursing agencies to work weekends in St. Louis area hospitals at higher pay, Hendrickson said.

That adds to the staffing problem for local hospitals, she said. More funding is needed for hospitals to keep nurses "at the bedside," she said.

Talent, who voted for the new Medicare bill recently passed by Congress, said the legislation will provide better Medicare reimbursement for rural hospitals like those in Cape Girardeau.

That, he said, could help address some of the staffing problems.

Talent said he would look at possible ways to reduce the regulatory burden and funnel federal money into recruitment of nurses.

A. Louise Hart, who heads the nursing department at the university, said a shortage of nursing faculty and clinical facilities for student nurses to do their training has added to the manpower problem.

Nationwide and in Missouri, the average age of registered nurses is 45. By 2010, the General Accounting Office projects, 40 percent of all registered nurses will be over 50.

Marcia Ritter, Cape Girardeau city councilwoman and a retired nursing administrator, said the nursing shortage is occurring at a time when employers and local governments are burdened with rising health insurance costs.

That's all the more reason for the nation to rely on nurses, who provide the most economical medical care, she said.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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