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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Sen. Reed, nursing leaders examine critical issues

Media Contact: Dave Lavallee, 401-874-5862

KINGSTON, R.I. – June 26, 2006 – U.S. Sen. Jack Reed met recently at the University of Rhode Island to hear firsthand from nursing leaders how to bolster a profession facing unprecedented demands.

Reed, URI President Robert L. Carothers and URI Nursing Dean Dayle Joseph hosted more than 50 nursing leaders from hospitals, academia, state agencies, unions and other health care agencies around the state to discuss critical issues facing the profession.

“Health care is at a critical juncture,” Reed told the group. “I believe that nurses can be a major asset as we face serious issues relating to quality and cost. We need a robust supply of them because we are getting older as a nation.”

He said the ability to educate large numbers of new nurses is made difficult because there is a dramatic shortage of nursing faculty and academic nursing facilities.

“Rhode Island is home to some of the finest nursing schools in the country, including Rhode Island College, the Community College of Rhode Island, the University of Rhode Island, Salve Regina University and St. Joseph School of Nursing, “said Reed. “But last year, about 32,000 prospective nursing students had to be turned away from nursing schools nationwide.”

He said it is important that groups such as the one gathered at URI continue to work together to solve the problem. “We have to be engaged in a continuous dialogue, and I want you to continue to be in touch with me.”

“Because of its size, Rhode Island has a unique opportunity to look at nursing issues in depth,” Joseph said.

Joseph said the Rhode Island SHAPE Foundation study reported that Rhode Island has a current shortage of 2,000 nurses, and by 2020, the state could be short 8,000 to 11,000 nurses.

Joseph, who chaired the nursing portion of the SHAPE study, “Help Wanted, the Growing Crisis in Rhode Island’s Nursing Workforce,” said in the report: “We definitely are facing a critical shortage that deserves more than a Band-Aid solution. It is clear that we must invest in both the practice and educational arenas. This project strengthened the bond between representatives from practice and education.

“It is imperative that we jointly develop strategies to redress the growing crisis in Rhode Island’s nursing workforce.”

While Joseph told the group that most nurses are satisfied with their career choice, many raise concerns about workload and compensation. Citing the report, she said about 12 percent of nurses under age 60 plan to leave the field in the next three years.

She also said nursing faculty do not earn as much as nurses working in hospitals and other health care agencies.

Leaders at Rhode Island College, the Community College of Rhode Island and URI said facilities are lagging at all three schools, and several panelists spoke of working conditions in the hospitals that can lead to problems with retention. Another panelist mentioned the critical shortage of nurses in the pediatric mental health field.

A number of solutions were offered:
• Improved and expanded nursing facilities at the state’s colleges.
• Free nursing faculty from duties unrelated to their academic areas.
• Increase nursing faculty salaries.
• Continue to work on overtime issues in the hospitals.
• Greater federal and state support for nursing research that improves patient care, especially in the administrative and clerical support areas, so nursing faculty could more effectively compete for federal funding.