State Still Debates Nursing Shortage Solutions as Varied as Problem's Causes

Article excerpt

Byline: Tia Mitchell, Times-Union staff writer

TALLAHASSEE -- No one is debating the fact that more nurses are needed in the state -- one study says Florida will need 34,000 more registered nurses by 2006.

The real debate comes during discussions about how to fix the problem and how the problem emerged. And it comes from all sides, from lawmakers to nurses to nursing schools.

The study, released by the Florida Hospital Association, paints an even darker picture by saying there are fewer students studying nursing, fewer licensed nurses in health care and more leaving the field each day.

Some say the shortage came as long shifts, forced overtime, increased paperwork, meager salaries and overbearing administrators left nurses frustrated and drained. Others say it is a lack of faculty and facilities to train new nurses.

Rich Rasmussen, vice president of legislative affairs for the hospital association, said the lack of nurses creates liability and other concerns for hospitals.

"As the largest employer of nurses, we take this very seriously as this relates to protecting our patients," he said.

At the Capitol, several lawmakers have written bills addressing the nursing shortage. Receiving the most attention is the Nursing Shortage Solutions Act, which would provide money for hospitals and schools to create programs designed to attract and retain nurses.

The most praised and debated provision in the act would diminish the lengthy process by which licensed nurses from other states receive a Florida license. The act would provide a provisional license for nurses from any state or U.S. territory and allow them to begin working immediately while backgrounds are checked.

The act is backed by the hospital association, Gov. Jeb Bush, the Florida Nurses Association and the South Florida contingent of the Service Employees International Union.

Another bill, the Safe Staffing and Quality Care Act, would mandate specific nurse staffing levels in different departments at hospitals. For example, the bill -- which also is supported by the union -- requires a one-to-one nurse-to-patient ratio in operating rooms and a one-to-three ratio in pediatrics.

A survey by the union's Nursing Alliance said 74 percent of registered nurses would stay until retirement if staffing levels were adequate, compared with 58 percent who plan to stay regardless.

But Rep. Sandra Murman, R-Tampa, the House sponsor of the Nursing Shortage Solutions Act, criticized the plan as forcing the government to regulate an issue that should be left up to hospitals.

Bush criticized a similar mandate that took effect last month in California.

"California passed that and their shortage has not gotten any better," he said. "And because of that, they've had to shut down beds."

John Ratliff, political director for the service employees union, said the California law hasn't been in effect long enough to gauge results. …