Judson Haims: What happens to your health care as U.S. nursing shortage increases?

Judson Haims
Special to The Aspen Times

The United States is in a nursing shortage and it is affecting the delivery of care.

Why should you care about this? First and foremost, studies show that there is a direct correlation between patient mortality and nursing shortages. A recent study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that patient safety incidents were 10 percent to 30 percent better when the patient-to-nurse ratios are optimal. However, when the patient-to-nurse ratio is not optimal, odds of patient mortality can increase by much as 40 percent.

This should concern us all. The nursing shortage is currently, and will continue, affecting the ability to properly staff our primary care medical offices in addition to acute care hospitals, surgical centers, rehab hospitals, nursing homes and memory care facilities. As these medical facilities feel the crunch, our quality of care will be negatively affected.

Another reason for concern is we have no sound plan for remedying this shortage. According to the National League for Nursing, “The nursing shortage in Colorado is twice the national average.” It is projected that by 2025 Colorado’s demand for nurses could exceed supply by 12,900 positions.

There are four major factors contributing to our nursing shortage: retiring nurses, faculty shortages, education costs and limited admissions.

There is a nursing retirement wave currently underway. Based on a Colorado Health Institute survey, 42 percent of the state’s school of nursing faculty are older than 55, 23 percent of current faculty indicate they will retire within five years and 48 percent indicate they will retire within 10 years. Nationally, The Health Resources and Services Administration projects that more than 1 million registered nurses will reach retirement age within the next 10 to 15 years.

The nursing faculty shortages across the U.S. is creating a crisis of epic proportions. While there have been many studies, reports and hypotheses about this, it really boils down to money. There are simply insufficient funds for nursing schools to hire faculty.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for nursing instructors and teachers is $69,130. Comparatively, a nurse who has spent years in practice and has earned an advanced practice degree may earn $80,000 to $100,000 — even more for certain types of practice. What incentive is there for such a nurse to teach? Altruism doesn’t pay the bills.

Education costs for nursing is not cheap. However, when factoring in the current and increasing earning potential, the cost of education is a sound investment. Providing that all the required prerequisite courses have already been met, a Colorado resident wanting a Baccalaureate of Science degree can expect to pay $10,000 to $28,000 (not including living expenses) depending whether a public or private school is chosen.

Unfortunately, making the commitment for a nursing degree, both financially and of time, is not the biggest barrier. Admission to a nursing school may be the biggest hurdle. Nationally, 40 percent of qualified applicants are turned away because nursing schools don’t have enough slots open, says Karren Kowalski, president and CEO of the Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence.

In Indiana, they are attempting to entice new faculty with the development of a bill in the Senate that would offer nursing faculty grants to help repay loan debt. In Denver, some universities are offering signing bonuses. If we do not quickly find ways to invest in higher education nursing faculty, we will continue to perpetuate a nursing shortage.

If ever there was a time to peer into the future for a career that provides job security and great pay, the time is now to embark on a nursing career.

In the meantime, some mountain communities have taken the initiative to address the nursing shortage by developing training labs within high schools. Summit High School has a very large training lab where for the past few years students been able to embark on their nursing education. At Eagle Valley High School, part of the school’s recent remodel included a fabulous hands-on training lab that will soon be open to students.

Additionally, Colorado Mountain College is on target by providing a number of courses in nursing at the Edwards, Glenwood Springs and Summit County campuses. Many of the school’s students are not only able to be introduced to a career in nursing at CMC, but they are able to obtain multiple levels of credentials and even employment within our mountain towns.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Aspen, Basalt, and Carbondale. He is an advocate for our elderly and is available to answer questions. His contact information is, 970-328-5526.