Politics and nursing: An odd couple

Published 12:03 am Monday, May 19, 2008

By Staff
This week not only marks the primary and elections in NC, it also ushers in National Nurses Week 2008. As the talk of candidates abates and the prerecorded phone messages end, 126,000 nurses will continue to provide critical services within North Carolina’s hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, home health agencies, hospices and health departments. While they give that care, the House and Senate Appropriations Committee will debate providing $500,000 in funding to sustain the N.C. Center for Nursing. This center, the first in the country, has existed since 1991 with a mission to gather data about nurses in our state so that shortages could be avoided and evaluation of trends could be managed.
Anyone suspicious of the N.C. Center for Nursing’s work need only check out their Web site http://nccn.northcarolina.edu/ and click on the research to find an incredible wealth of information and essential data about nurses in our state. Current predictions by the US Bureau of Labor (2007) forecast a need for a million replacement nurses by 2016 since 55 percent of nurses report an intention to retire between 2011 and 2020. We would need to education 30,000 more nurses annually to meet the growing nation’s health care needs.
A 2007 report released by the N.C. Center for Nursing showed that 8.4 percent of all RN positions in the state were vacant. For LPNs, 9.4 percent of budgeted positions in the industry were vacant and for nurse aides, 8.1 percent were vacant. When there are nurse vacancies in health-care organizations staff have increased workloads and the risk for patient errors increases. In 2004, the Institute of Medicine released a report called, Keeping Patients Safe, that showed an inseparable link between nurses and the safety of patients. Why, at a time when we know shortages of nurses are expected in the future, would our legislative representatives even debate for one minute the need to fund the N.C. Center for Nursing?
If you have to stay overnight in a hospital then you need ongoing nursing observation to be safe in your recovery. If after surgery you’re taken back to your room and you stop breathing, it will most likely be a nurse that begins life saving procedures. If you start a new medication and have an allergic reaction, it will be the nurse that notices the symptoms. And if your family is worried while you are undergoing a procedure, it will be a nurse that comforts them. Nurses are a cornerstone of our health care system and need to be skilled, appreciated, and empowered.
Why after 17 years of successfully providing state data that has supported increasing enrollment in nursing schools and focused our awareness on the nursing faculty shortage, would the N.C. Legislature fail to fund the N.C. Center for Nursing? It is estimated that we will need 9000 more nurses in North Carolina by 2015 and 18,000 by 2020. Efforts like those made by the NCCN are critical to ensure an adequate nursing work force is in place when we need it — and the time is now.