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Who'll Pay for Raises?

October 25, 1987

Harry Bernstein's Sept. 15 column, "Underpaid Nurses Could Learn a Lesson From Teachers," focused on nurses' pay but failed to state the real question facing society: Who will pay?

Bernstein quoted average nursing salaries nationally but failed to note that the average starting pay for a newly hired staff nurse in Southern California was as high as $24,300 last fall--not bad starting pay for a recent nursing school grad with a community college education. In addition, a 1986 survey of 180 hospitals in six Southern California counties found that the average base pay--not counting premium pay for special duty--for general-duty staff nurses was $28,400 and some made as much as $43,300. Market forces are at work, contrary to Bernstein's assertions, and these figures will be even higher when our 1987 surveys are in.

While Bernstein admits that teachers are only a little better off than nurses, he encourages nurses to unionize to improve wages anyway. This overlooks the central question for both groups, unionized or not. In both cases, large numbers of trained individuals are needed to do jobs society requires: teaching our young people and caring for the ill. If we want nurses at the bedside caring for us in the future, then we have to make a commitment to pay nurses higher salaries. In both cases, government, and ultimately the taxpayers, pay the bill for increased wages.

Finally, although conflicts between physicians and nurses over patient-care issues occur, the days of nurses being treated by administrators or physicians as servants are long over. In today's sophisticated hospitals, nurses are part of an interdisciplinary team and are partners with other health professionals in providing quality patient care.

ARTHUR A. SPONSELLER

Vice President, Human Resources

Hospital Council of Southern California

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