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Sun, Aug. 18

Nursing shortage still exists

Taylor

Taylor

A newly released county-by-county study of Arizona registered nurses shows that Yavapai County has one of the state's highest registered nurses-to-population ratios, yet still faces a nursing shortage.

The issue is critically important because nurses are the frontline caregivers for sick patients, especially in hospitals. A lack of nurses can compromise patient care.

Nursing experts say there is a reason Yavapai County still needs more nurses.

"The number one reason is because we have an aging county," said Mardy Taylor, Yavapai Regional Medical Center's chief nursing officer.

Someone 65 or older needs about three times more healthcare services - which includes nurses - than younger people do, Taylor explained.

Also, Taylor pointed out, the data center looked at nurses with licenses. "Not all nurses with licenses work," she said, or they only work part-time.

The nursing study, released by the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association from its Arizona Healthcare Workforce Data Center, says that only three Arizona counties - Yavapai, Coconino and Pima - exceed the national average of 825 RNs per 100,000 residents. Yavapai has 912 registered nurses per 100,000 people.

The data center estimates that Arizona will need 49,000 new registered nurses by 2017. Its study is the first ever to attempt to forecast the state's future need for registered nurses.

Yavapai Regional Medical Center - with campuses in Prescott and Prescott Valley - has a total of almost 600 nurses.

Almost 500 of them are in jobs that deal directly with patient care, Taylor said.

"That's where our greatest need is," she continued. "I would say we could use another 25 to 30 experienced nurses."

That's because the hospital regularly gets newly graduated nurses from Yavapai College. The new nurses need mentoring by more experienced nurses. The annual nurse turnover rate at YRMC is 13 percent, Taylor said.

The number of nurses the hospital needs will continue to expand as the hospital expands, Taylor said.

For example, a new Women's Pavilion on the east campus will open late next year or early in 2000, and nurses will be needed there, Taylor said.

The areas of highest nursing need at YRMC are for cardiovascular nurses to work with heart patients, perinatal nurses to work with newborns and their mothers, and medical/surgical nurses to work with patients admitted for surgery or medical reasons.

Adda Alexander, a registered nurse and the executive vice president of the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association, says Arizona is facing a nursing shortage for a number of reasons, including low pay, an aging population that requires more care, and a lack of nursing teachers to fill the nursing pipeline.

She and Taylor also caution that the nurse to population ratio could be overstated because it's based on the number of licensed nurses in Arizona, but not all licensed nurses work full-time or even work at all.

Alexander said hospitals are trying creative ways to keep the nurses they have and attract new ones with flexible scheduling, assistive equipment and mentoring of new nurses.

More and more hospitals also are recruiting from overseas.

Contact the reporter at tshultz@prescottaz.com

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