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Hospitals use ‘village’ concept to tackle nursing shortage

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Shanna Reed, a nurse at the Innovative Unit at St. Vincent Indianapolis, remembered a cancer patient she befriended. Near the end of the patient’s life, she had two requests. The first was a cheeseburger, which Reed happily supplied. The second was that Reed be the one to deliver the patient’s last wishes to her family. That day reminded Reed about the importance of her job.

“Being a bedside nurse, you are going to take on the many different characteristics, but the main thing is being an advocate for your patient,” Reed said. “… Even though we encompass many different roles, it’s so rewarding.”

Reed’s story highlights the important role the country’s 4 million nurses play in the health care industry, said Mary Myers, the chief nursing officer at St. Vincent. According to the article, The State of Nursing, from Purdue University there are 59,000 nurses in Indiana. Despite that number, both the state and the nation are facing a nursing shortage, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting a nationwide shortage of more than 200,000 nurses by 2026. Tanya Hahn, vice president of talent acquisition at IU Health, said nurses currently make up a third of IU Health’s workforce, yet the hospital network still has over 300 nursing positions available.

The nursing shortage is expected to grow as baby boomers continue entering an age requiring more medical attention at a rate that outpaces enrollment in nursing schools. In addition, 24% of nurses in Indiana are over 55 and nearing retirement, according to a study by Indiana University’s Bowen Center for Health Workforce Research and Policy.

To combat the shortage local hospitals use teamwork and nursing pools to help provide quality care while colleges offer multiple paths to a nursing degree.

Although Charlee Hunt, a nurse at St. Vincent Women’s Hospital, knows there’s a shortage, she never feels like she’s doing the work of two or three people because fellow nurses pitch in when needed and care for patients who are not their own.

“It really does take a village to take care of our patients,” Hunt said.

Nursing pools also are a creative way hospitals tackle the shortage. To become part of a nursing pool, nurses can apply to work at any hospital where there’s a need. Much like a substitute teacher a nurse could have at a different assignment daily or work at one hospital long term. This option provides assistance to the hospitals that are short staffed and offers nurses flexible hours and better pay. Most hospitals have resource pool nurses — St. Vincent employs over 200, Myers said.

Colleges also address the nursing shortage through accelerated programs. For example, those with a general bachelor’s degree can earn a Bachelor of Nursing from Marian University in 16 months. Ivy Tech Community College created a similar program in 2009 where paramedics can transition to become nurses.

However, as colleges work to enroll more students in nursing programs, school officials must be cautious to keep standards in place.

“It would be really easy to say, ‘expand, expand, expand,’ but you do have to expand responsibly and be able to maintain the quality of education,” Angela Koller, dean of nursing and professor at Ivy Tech, said. “That is very important. As we have expanded our numbers slightly over the last few years, we are trying to do that in a very smart fashion, so our quality of nurse does not change.”

Contact staff writer Ben Lashar at 317-762-7848. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminLashar.

May 12 is International Nurses Day, a holiday to celebrate nurses and remember their contributions to society. (Photo provided)

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