Archive for Monday, July 7, 2008

Lack of nurses stresses hospitals

July 7, 2008


— Call buttons go unanswered. Bedridden patients aren't turned enough to prevent bedsores, others who need exercise to prevent blood clots don't get it. Nurses who work in pediatric units end up caring for elderly patients.

Back rubs? Forget about it.

A national nursing shortage is about to get worse and those in the industry are concerned it could start affecting the care patients receive.

"You hear a lot of projections of doom and gloom," said Juanita Tate, who runs the nursing school at Wichita State University. "But if you need to go to a hospital, you should go and you shouldn't go scared."

The 129 hospitals in Kansas report a vacancy rate of 8.8 percent, which is about the same as the national average. According to a 2004 study by the division of nursing at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 17 percent of Kansans who currently held a registered nursing license were not practicing.

And most of the nurses in the state are in their 40s and 50s - the average age is 42 - meaning there will be a large hole to fill when that group retires.

A Kansas Department of Labor study estimated Kansas will need 11,350 new registered nurses by 2010 to keep up with demand. It will be tough to do considering Kansas nursing schools produced 1,761 new nurses last year and a teaching shortage had led to hundreds of nursing students being turned away.

The future doesn't look good, but it's already putting a strain on the present. Overworked nurses have felt the stress and they're concerned it will lead to mistakes that could hurt their patients.

"Some of them say they are nearing the end of their rope," said Paul Harrison, a surgeon who directs trauma care at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita.

The shortage has led to nurses who normally care for two patients in a shift to have three under their watch. Some nurses in one specialty have been forced to help out in other areas where they might not feel quite as comfortable or properly trained.

And because of high turnover, particularly in acute care areas, there is almost constant training of new people.

The result is that hospitals have been forced to call in temporary nurses or switch nurses or patients from one floor or another - even one hospital to another.

"A hospital my have an empty bed, but if it doesn't have a nurse to staff it, that bed doesn't exist," Harrison said.


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