Health Care Administrators Fear Worker Shortage

May 7, 2002
Print
Text Size:
A A
GRAND RAPIDS – Like so many other industries operating in a tight labor market, health care providers see a worker shortage as one of the growing challenges facing the industry in the years ahead.

The warning comes as an aging population will require a greater level of care in the next two decades as millions of baby boomers reached advanced age, putting further pressure on the health care system.

“Clearly it is an issue of great importance to all of us,” Spectrum Health System CEO Richard Breon said during the monthly Alliance for Health First Friday Forum that focused on trends for 2001.

A shortage of workers within the industry was a common theme during the panel discussion.

“How do we recruit and retain good people?” is a top priority for the health care industry said Breon, who joined Spectrum as CEO four months ago. The problem, he noted, is “not just at bedside.”

Particularly worrisome is nursing, a profession whose members are aging and which has seen a decline since the mid-1990s in the number of people entering nursing schools. In 1999, enrollment in graduate nursing schools fell 4.6 percent from 1998, the fifth consecutive year for a decline, according to the American Association of College of Nurses.

Research conducted by Peter Buerhaus, associate dean at Vanderbilt University’s School of Nursing, shows that about 40 percent of U.S. nurses will be 50 years old by 2010. By 2020, when that group hits retirement age, the nation’s nursing shortage will reach a projected 400,000.

With enrollments in nursing schools nationwide declining, the fear is that in 20 years the nation will experience a serious shortage of nurses at a time when the need is accelerating and deeply straining the system’s ability to care for the elderly.

“It’s truly a crisis in the future,” said Phyllis Gendler, the dean of Grand Valley State University’s Kirkhof School of Nursing who was among the First Friday Forum panelists. “Nurses are needed everywhere.”

Addressing the problem, industry representatives say, requires all parties to work together to bring more people into the profession.

“This is not a time for competition,” said Carol Feuss, director of communications for the Michigan Nurses Association.

Feuss suspects stress from long hours and tight finances among health care providers that requires personnel to do more with less are among the many reasons behind the declining interest in nursing. Expanding career options for women – who account for 90 percent of the profession – also has contributed to a decline in enrollment at nursing schools, Feuss said.

“There’s a great diversity of opportunity for women going into college. There’s many, many areas to go into,” Feuss said.

At GVSU, enrollments at the Kirkhof School of Nursing have held steady in recent years, with applicants still exceeding open positions, Gendler said. The school has expanded its openings and offerings in recent years and is developing a doctoral nursing program for those who want to move into teaching, Gendler said.

In Grand Rapids, Metropolitan Hospital has been able to avert a nursing shortage with an aggressive recruitment and retention effort, Vice President of Nursing Elaine Griffiths said. She believes a selling point is the profession’s human side that offers far greater rewards than a steady income.

“Most people want to be connected to something larger than themselves,” Griffiths said. “This is a profession where you’re affecting the well-being of other human beings, and there’s no other profession that does that.”           

Recent Articles by Mark Sanchez

Editor's Picks

Comments powered by Disqus