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Wednesday, Jun 7, 2023

Despite Programs, Nurses Still Rare

At College of the Canyons, the waiting list to enter its nursing program numbers some 300 names. On a monthly basis, the Valencia school processes 1,500 applications of potential students wanting to get into the two-year program. “My school has tripled its enrollment in the last four years,” said Sue Albert, dean of Allied Health. “We are doing our job on this end.” Despite the efforts of College of the Canyons and other schools in the San Fernando Valley area a shortage of nurses in California remains and it’s an issue facing the health care industry that isn’t going away soon, The current shortage is pegged as high as 21,000, a number expected to double by 2010, according to the Center for California Health Workforce. A study by UC San Francisco pushes the number of unfilled nursing positions to 122,000 by 2030. To address the shortage, hospitals have lured local nurses and recent graduates to their facilities through perks and signing bonuses while others pay overtime and hire temporary nurses through staffing firms; expensive options given that traveling nurses can make up to $100,000 a year. You have to look at whole picture, and California has a huge growth rate, births and people moving here from wherever. Albert, a registered nurse since 1970, said that hospitals have worked to improve working conditions and provide reasonable pay measures that help bring in new nurses. The key is the follow up and keeping them on staff, Albert said. According to 2005 statistics, California had one of the highest hourly wages for nurses, with an average of $33.04 for both private and not-for-profit hospitals. At Providence Health System’s two hospitals in the San Fernando Valley, night shift nurses can volunteer for a program in which they work for six consecutive pay periods or 12 weeks and have two consecutive pay periods four weeks off. Hospital administration is looking to bring the program in a modified form to the day shift as a means to retain its nursing staff, said John Saavedra, director of human resources for Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank. The biggest draw for the program is that the nurses come out ahead with paid time off, Saavedra said. But it also gives staff a chance to spend more time with family and to prevent burnout from the job. “They have four weeks of downtime they count on just being away from work and getting paid,” Saavedra said. Hospitals had already been facing a nursing shortage when a new state mandate went into effect in 2004 requiring hospitals to employ a certain number of nurses for each patient depending on the ward; from one nurse for every two patients in intensive care to one nurse for every six in psychiatric. While heralded by nurses and patient rights groups, over the past two years the ratios have effectively tapped the local pool of nursing candidates dry. Foreign-born nurses are not necessarily seen as a panacea because hospitals tend to shy away from the time and expense of the hiring process involving these nurses. In education, area schools play their part to address the shortage. Fast track In late 2005, UCLA announced plans to reopen its undergraduate nursing program to freshman after a decade-long closure. California State University at Northridge is awaiting approval from the state Board of Nursing for a 15-month fast-track bachelor degree program for new nurses. Northridge Hospital Medical Center and Providence Health System each contributed $100,000 to start up that program. The program is open to students who have already received a bachelor degree or higher in any subject and have met prerequisites, such as anatomy and physiology, said its director Martha Highfield. Whereas a traditional bachelor of science in nursing takes four years to earn, the new CSUN program collapses it into four consecutive semesters. “It’s a very quick way to graduate new registered nurses,” Highfield said. Community colleges, however, provide the lion’s share of educational and training opportunities. Local schools took a role in meeting the nursing demand by forming a collaborative in January 2005 between five colleges from Ventura through to Glendale and seven hospitals and medical centers. For the first year of the two-year program, students share a common curriculum and then are absorbed into one of the five participating community colleges. The classes are taught off campus through live interactive teleconferencing, with skills labs taking place at the partnering hospitals. The program graduated its first class of 100 students in late November, with the students receiving an associate’s degree, said Albert, of College of the Canyons. Hospital grants The program is primarily funded through grants with each partner hospital contributing $100,000, Albert said. But one challenge on the education front is providing clinical experience for the students, Albert said. College of the Canyons received a grant with which it will purchase nine computerized mannequins costing $300,000 that can be used for nurse training in the place of live patients, Albert said. Highfield lined up hospitals in the Valley to provide clinical placement for the students of the fast-track program expected to start next fall. “An advantage is the student is trained in their environment,” Highfield said. “The students become comfortable with their environment if they go to work there.” Maintaining required staffing levels is just one reason for a low number of nurses. Another is working nurses reaching retirement age. “Nurses are aging; within the collaborative four have retired,” Albert said “That is a lot of nursing leadership to lose.” Officials at Providence St. Joseph do look at internal demographics to make its business decisions, Saavedra said. A big component for the facility is determining if sufficient numbers exist to backfill those positions as retirements take place. “There is a gap there so obviously there is room for improvement,” he said. “We’re also looking at programs that would help identify our existing employees who have high potential to move into management or exec management positions.”

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