As the nursing shortage strikes America, organizations across the country are trying to deal with the problems facing hospitals and medical facilities. Unfortunately, the shortage is currently occurring in conjunction with an economic crisis that has hindered our healthcare facilities' ability to simply hire more nurses to solve the problem. But the nursing shortage is self-perpetuating and as more nurses retire and schools are unable to produce enough new nurses to fill vacancies, the stress on our remaining RNs is compounded. This, in turn, leads to more rapid job burnout, and even greater stress on the dwindling number of remaining nurses.
Many people are arguing that the focus of thwarting the nursing shortage should be on education. Schools, which also suffer from the recession, are swamped with eligible applicants to nursing programs and must turn away droves of potential nurses because they don't have enough faculty or large enough class rooms and labs to accommodate all qualified students.
Patricia Eakin, RN and president of the largest registered nurse union in Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP), has stated that the problems of the shortage are caused at least as much, if not more, by retention rather than recruitment. Until schools can catch up to the demands of the healthcare system and of interested applicants, retention must be the focus of alleviating the nursing shortage.
?We welcome improvements to nurse education; however, the shortage is caused by problems with nurse retention as much as, if not more than, recruitment. Hospitals often staff too lightly, and during this economic downturn, many have cut staffing to dangerous levels. When patient care gets dangerous, nurses leave,? stated Eakin.
PASNAP, in conjunction with the National Nurses Organizing Committee (NNOC) are pushing for statewide legislation mandating lower registered nurse-to-patient ratios. In California, where such legislation has been in effect since 2002, there have been nearly 100,000 additional RNs licensed. In other words, since the enactment of the safe staffing law, California has seen their yearly average of licensed RNs triple.
?Ratios are commonsense minimum safety standards, just as we have in other areas of public life,? Eakin points out. ?We have ratios for schoolteachers and prison guards, and standards for clean air and water. Why not in our hospitals??