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Home > Article Categories > Nursing Jobs > Slowing the Nursing Shortage

Slowing the Nursing Shortage

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America is experiencing an intense nursing shortage that is escalating into a crisis. However, many new strategies have been adopted to help slow the growing shortage. California's 2004 legislated patient-to-nurse ratios are proving to be good measures in terms of nurse retention.
The American HealthCare Association found that in July 2008, 116,000 hospital nursing positions and over 19,000 long-term care facility nursing positions were vacant. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 587,000 new jobs for registered nurses will open by 2016. In March 2008, Dr. Peter Buerhaus of Vanderbilt University Medical Center released a report that estimates national nursing shortages leaving 500,000 nursing positions vacant by 2025. Still less optimistic, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services anticipates a shortage of 1 million nurses by 2020.
In 2004, the state of California passed legislation that regulates the nurse-to-patient ratios in acute-care hospitals. The regulations take into account the individual types of medical units and patients' degree of illness. Intensive-care unit nurses, for instance, can have no more than two patients per shift. Medical and surgical units have a slightly higher maximum of five patients to each nurse per shift.
Many laud the California legislation as having improved healthcare in the state. Professor Linda Aiken of the University of Pennsylvania conducted a study on the effects of the legislation that reports that an overwhelming percentage of nurses polled say the implementation of these ratios has had a positive effect on their work environment. The California Nurses Association, the organization that sponsored the legislation, believes it has been successful. They point to the increase of 100,000 actively licensed RNs in California since 2004 as evidence that the ratio law was a good choice.
The idea is that mandating reasonable nurse-to-patient ratios reduces much of the job stress brought on by the intense work environment, and has increased nursing staff retention, which in turn alleviates the nursing shortage that caused U.S. patient-to-nurse ratios to get out of control.
These regulations have proved especially important as the health insurance system has evolved. It used to be more common to be hospitalized even when your condition wasn't extreme. Nowadays insurance companies refuse to cover the cost of hospitalization unless the patient is very ill. This means that in years past, nurses could easily manage five to seven patients, because a majority of them could take basic care of themselves including washing and using the bathroom on their own. However today nurses have more patients who require total care, and this is a serious burden. Limiting the number of patients to a reasonable level has had a positive impact on job satisfaction and retention.

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