Nurses in Short Supply Growing First Coast Hospitals Work with Local Schools, Recruit Overseas to Fill Spots

Article excerpt

Byline: Marcia Mattson, Times-Union staff writer

Construction of two new hospitals could worsen an already serious nursing shortage in the Jacksonville region.

But officials from Jacksonville hospitals are banding together with the area's nursing schools to recruit more students and ease the shortage before the new hospitals open.

Some hospitals also plan to begin recruiting and importing nurses from the Philippines.

Registered nurses are growing scarcer. If the trend isn't reversed, the United States will need an estimated 1.1 million more RNs in 2020 than it will have, according to the Florida Hospital Association.

Because of the shortage, patients are facing overcrowded conditions and longer waits for surgeries and other procedures, according to the American Hospital Association.

In Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia, the general population is growing in both age and number -- at the same time that nurses are aging and leaving the profession. And too few people are going to nursing school to replace them.

Florida will need 30 percent more nurses in 2006 than in 1996. This year, 16 percent of RN positions in Florida hospitals are vacant, according to a hospital association survey.

And in Georgia, the situation could reach "catastrophic" proportions, according to a recent report presented to board members of the state Department of Community Health. Patient safety and quality of care are suffering, the report said. In 1999, the last year Georgia hospitals were surveyed, 13 percent of the state's nursing jobs were vacant.

"Everything I have seen and read suggests it's becoming increasingly critical," said Pam Chally, dean of the College of Health at the University of North Florida and a member of the Florida Board of Nursing.

"It's going to take some concerted efforts to get us over the hump," Chally said.

Meanwhile, two new hospitals are in the works, although both need state approval before they can be built.

-- Mayo Clinic Jacksonville plans to build a new hospital at its San Pablo Road campus. The number of beds has not been determined.

-- Baptist Health plans to build a 125-bed hospital in the growing area of the Duval-St. Johns County border.

Officials for the two planned facilities say they are working on staffing plans.

Baptist Health will need roughly 45 RNs to open the hospital at partial capacity, said Hugh Greene, president and chief executive officer.

But the hospital eventually could need nearly three times that number to open all beds. Greene noted that about 100 RNs are employed at Baptist Beaches, which is using 82 of its 90 licensed beds.

It's harder to predict the impact of Mayo's plans. Mayo now admits patients to St. Luke's Hospital, but it plans to sell St. Luke's to St. Vincent's Medical Center.

"We do know it will require ongoing recruitment and retention efforts," said Janice Lipsky, vice president of organizational effectiveness for St. Vincent's.

Employees will choose whether to work at the Mayo hospital or stay at St. Luke's, said Hilary Mathews, associate administrator for St. Luke's.

That likely would leave St. Luke's with fewer nurses, but also fewer patients.

Cathy Allman, the Florida Hospital Association's vice president of nursing and health care professions, said she doesn't think the RN shortage is stifling new hospital construction -- yet.

"I think if we can't do some things to help with the nursing shortage, it may on down the road. But it's going to be a few years before we would know that," Allman said.

RECRUITING STUDENTS

Chief executives from area hospitals began meeting a year ago with officials from three nursing schools: Jacksonville University, the University of North Florida and Florida Community College at Jacksonville. Their goals: to better understand the shortage and reverse it. …