Nursing shortage will ease in 2009

The shortage of qualified nurses across the country will remain a problem for much of the health care industry in 2009.

However, according to local health care industry professionals, southeastern Wisconsin may not feel the effects as acutely as many other parts of the country will.

Despite the large number of medical facilities in the region, southeastern Wisconsin is doing better when it comes to filling demand for nurses than other parts of the nation, said Mark Honoski, owner of West Allis-based Premier Medical Staffing Services LLC.

“We have seen a steady increase in the demand for all disciplines over the last year, but probably saw a leveling off in nursing during 2008,” he said.

Premier Medical Staffing, which recently moved to a new office at 10150 W. National Ave, offers day-to-day needs as well as contract needs for medical staff. Those positions include registered nurses, pharmacy technicians, physical therapists, occupational and speech therapists, radiology and ultrasound technicians and many others.

Premier has a national presence with a focus on the Midwest and doing work with federal Air Force facilities. The company also has a presence in all of the major local health systems, as well as many of the nursing homes in the Milwaukee area.

“With the pinch of economic times, many facilities have decided to do more with who they have and have even been forced to mandate overtime,” he said.

Requiring nurses to work overtime may cause nurses to burn out early and seek out other professions.

Dessie Levy, dean of health occupations at Milwaukee Area Technical College, sees a problem with nursing burnout, as well.

“Right now in the urban Milwaukee area, we are not being impacted as heavily as some of the rural areas,” Levy said. “When we talk about the nursing shortage from the academic side of things, the problem comes when obtaining qualified nursing faculty.”

According to Levy, the average age of members of the nursing faculty is around 56 years old, and educational institutions all over the nation are having trouble competing with the industry pay scale to obtain qualified instructors before burnout sets in.

“We have a history of strong nursing faculty in our state, but the problem comes when they can make more money as a floor nurse,” Levy said. “They do that up until retirement age, and as we plan for the retirement of those individuals, we haven’t gone far beyond the anticipated need to recruit.”

Levy recently succeeded in eliminating the wait list for the Milwaukee Area Technical College nursing program and is in the process of forming partnerships to address the shortage of resources and clinical space available to teach nursing students.

Levy also agreed that the Milwaukee area isn’t as affected by the nursing shortage as badly as other parts of the nation.

“The good thing about our area is that people will come here and love it, and they will stay here,” she said.

The U.S. Department of Workforce Development projects a shortage of 10,000 health care workers in Wisconsin by 2012. The nursing shortage on a national basis by that time is around 600,000, Levy said.

Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare is not seeing that shortage yet, according to Wayne Frangesch, vice president of human resources for the health care provider.

“I think our needs have dropped a fair amount,” Frangesch said. “We have done a pretty aggressive campaign for new graduating nurses the last few years that has worked for us. We have substantially reduced our uses of medical staffing agencies. Ultimately, we would like our own staff taking care of our patients so that is the direction we are heading.”

Froedert and the Medical College of Wisconsin also recruit a large number of graduating nurses and, according to Julie Gruver, registered nurse and quality nursing project coordinator at Froedtert, the scheduling system available for nurses at Froedert makes employment at the facility very attractive for many nurses.

“What really sets us apart, is our unique scheduling model. Our nurses go seven days on for 10 hours and then get seven days off. They know their schedule for years to come, and it really helps promote good teamwork, and it’s also great for the patient,” Gruver said. “Many nurses come here because of the seven 70 scheduling, we have not seen a shortage here at Froedert.”

According to Gruver, Froedert is one of very few hospitals in the country that runs the seven-70 scheduling system, and it has done so since its formation almost 30 years ago.

Gruver believes that the week off between shifts decreases the stress level and allows nurses to remain on the job longer without burning out.

“We really believe that the respite of that week off, meaning 26 weeks off in a year, allows our nurses to have a really nice work life balance,” Gruver said. “It gives them that necessary family time or time away from work. That’s partly why they like working here so much, and we think it really helps them.” 

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