Nurse Shortage Issue enters American Presidential Election Campaign

The Medical News Today reported that on August 24 John Edwards, a Democrat Senator, talked during his campaign trail in New Hampshire about his commitment to add 100,000 nurses in the US health workforce within five years.

Read from his campaign website.

Below is the excerpt.

According to John Edwards:
-- Nursing shortage growing: One estimate says New Hampshire needs 672 new nurses annually until 2014 just to fill vacant positions. However, the state is only producing half that number of nursing graduates each year. By 2020 the USA will have 1 million fewer registered nurses than it needs. New Hampshire will have 27% fewer nurses than it needs. (NHDES, 2007; HRSA, 2006; CHWS, 2006; NHNA, 2006)

-- Nursing shortage undermines patient health: A patient who goes in to hospital for routine procedures is at a 31% higher risk of death if his/her hospital has a severe nursing shortage. Up to 25% of unexpected hospital deaths may be due to nursing shortages. Taking on more nurses could save 6,700 lives in hospitals and 4 million days of hospital care. Addressing nursing shortages properly would significantly reduce adverse outcomes, such as hospital-acquired pneumonia and cardiac arrest. (Aiken et al., 2002; JCAHO, 2002; Needleman et al., 2006)

-- Overworking nurses is dangerous: Several hospitals are having to make their nurses work longer and longer shifts in order to address their nursing shortage. They are also making nurses responsible for an ever-growing number of patients. Many nurses have to work shifts of 12 hours or more. (IWPR, 2006)

-- RNs leaving nursing: Almost 450,000 nurses have left the profession. They are put off by the longer hours, unsafe workplaces, low compensation and lack of respect. (HRSA, 2006; CHWS, 2006)

Retaining Nurses by Respecting the Profession

Edwards will keep skilled nurses from leaving the profession and bring back former nurses. Bringing back just 10 percent of the nurses who have left the profession will increase the number of veteran nurses serving America's patients by about 50,000. Edwards will:

  • Ensure Safe Staffing Levels: High patient-to-nurse ratios have been linked to increased medical errors, worse patient outcomes and high staff turnover. Edwards believes that we need requirements that ensure safe staffing levels, determined on a unit-by-unit level, with appropriate exceptions for emergencies. He will support hospitals in finding the nurses that they need to provide high quality care. [Aiken, 2002]
  • Eliminate Mandatory Overtime: When hospitals force nurses to work more than 12 hours at a time, it becomes difficult for nurses to provide top-quality care and they are more likely to quit their jobs. States like New Hampshire have begun to lead the way in restricting mandatory overtime, but we need a national solution. As president, Edwards will ban mandatory overtime for nurses, with limited, temporary exemptions for truly understaffed areas.
  • Improve Workplace Safety: The simple act of doing your job should not cause you harm. Edwards strongly opposed the Bush Administration's abandonment of real ergonomics standards. As president, he will implement a broad, mandatory ergonomics rule, and appoint officials who are committed to enforcing it. He will also help improve nurses' working conditions by offering resources to hospitals that commit to major improvements in nurses' working conditions - such as offering more time off, implementing new safety standards, and giving nurses a greater voice in hospital administration. He will also instruct the Department of Health and Human Services to lead a nationwide initiative on workplace safety and establish a presidential commission to recommend improvements in the nursing workplace, including protections from pandemic flu and safe patient handling.
  • Strengthen Nurses' Voices: Giving nurses a stronger voice will help keep nurses on the job. Edwards will strengthen labor laws to make it easier for nurses to organize and collectively bargain and reverse the court decision that deprived nearly 1 million of nurses and millions of other workers of the opportunity to join a union. He will also offer federal challenge grants to support responsible "magnet hospitals" that offer more training and mentoring, decent pay and benefits and give nurses a voice in hospital administration.

Increasing the Number of Young People Choosing Nursing as a Career

Educating and training the next generation of health care workers is essential to meet the increased demand of a universal health care system. To add 50,000 new nurses to the profession within five years, Edwards will:

  • Add New Nurses to Critical Shortage Areas: Edwards will pay up to full tuition and fees for 50,000 new students to become nurses. In return, these nurses would agree to serve for at least four years where nurses are in critical short supply, such as rural hospitals and urban public hospitals.
  • Expand Educational Capacity: In addition, to ensure that schools have the resources to provide the new students with high-quality training, Edwards will invest to increase the capacity of the nation's nursing schools – including training and recruiting nursing faculty -- by 30 percent to meet the challenge of nursing shortage. He will also support distance learning initiatives– like the current partnership between UNH and Granite State College – that can help bring advanced training to rural areas. [Manchester Union-Leader, 8/6/2006]
  • Create Partnerships with Hospitals: Classroom training is vital, but there is no substitute for experience. Edwards will support training partnerships of nursing schools and hospitals, like medical schools already have.
  • Reach Out to High School Students: To reach a new generation of nurses, Edwards will help high schools implement career education programs in nursing that combine applied skills with rigorous academics.
  • Promote Career Ladder Programs: There are hundreds of thousands of low-wage health care workers in hospitals and home care agencies across the country with the dedication and familiarity with the field to become professional nurses – but they don't have the time or money to go to nursing school. Edwards will support Career Ladder partnerships, where employers and unions help low-wage health care workers and displaced workers from other sectors move up the skills ladder with on-the-job training, time off for training and guaranteed placement. He will build on model programs like the successful workforce development labor-government partnership in Los Angeles County. [Fitzgerald, 2006]