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Area's Nursing Shortage Called 'Extremely Bad'

March 06, 1988|MARY BARBER | Times Staff Writer

After more than a year of searching, advertising and making do with temporary help, California Christian Home in Rosemead finally hired a director of nursing last week for its convalescent hospital.

Westminster Gardens in Duarte has not been so fortunate. A similar retirement home with a 64-bed convalescent hospital, it has been trying to fill a registered nurse position for more than a year.

In both cases, administrators said they could not attract a single applicant last year, even though they offered competitive salaries and tried every means of recruitment.

"It's an extremely bad situation," said Jim Stricker, executive director of California Christian Home. "We couldn't get anyone qualified to even talk to us" until last week.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday March 10, 1988 Home Edition San Gabriel Valley Part 9 Page 2 Column 1 Zones Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
A photo caption in the March 6 San Gabriel Valley section gave the wrong title for Rhea Williams, an associate professor of nursing at Azusa Pacific University. The maternity nursing class that Williams teaches also was misidentified.

The nursing shortage in the San Gabriel Valley reflects national trends. And it is not restricted to nursing homes or small convalescent hospitals.

Queen of the Valley Hospital in West Covina always needs at least 20 more nurses, and Pomona Valley Hospital in Pomona has at least a dozen vacant RN positions, according to spokesmen who noted that all acute-care hospitals in California are short of nurses.

Meanwhile, four college nursing programs in the San Gabriel Valley are graduating about 270 registered nurses a year, with a far broader spectrum of ages and ethnicity than ever before. About 16% of them are men.

But that is far below the number of nursing students the schools enrolled even five years ago. The National League of Nursing estimates that enrollment in nursing schools has steadily declined since 1983, falling 22% in just the past two years. The same decline is evident in local nursing programs.

Spokesmen for schools and hospitals say nursing graduates from Cal State Los Angeles, Pasadena City College, Mt. San Antonio College and Azusa Pacific University do not begin to meet the needs of the San Gabriel Valley's growing population and its increasing numbers of elderly. Bedside care, they noted, is hard work with a high burnout rate, and many go into other fields of nursing.

Kristine de Queiros, who chairs the Pasadena City College nursing program, said that 20 years ago, PCC had 800 applicants for 100 openings each semester. Last fall, she said, 55 nursing students were accepted, 41 actually enrolled in the program and rising dropout and failure rates are sure to drive that number down. There were 32 in the January graduating class.

Karen Myers, dean of health sciences at Mt. San Antonio College, said the pool of nursing applicants on file has dropped from 300 to 150 over the past 10 years, and many who apply do not qualify for the nursing program.

"This has been going on for a decade," Myers said. "We feel that society is in for a very hard time if we can't attract more people."

Azusa Pacific University, a small private school with a 12-year-old nursing program, has 110 nursing students and room for 200.

Cal State Los Angeles, which offers bachelor of science and master's degrees in nursing, has "a capacity much greater than our enrollment," according to Jo Ann Johnson, acting chairman of the department. "We could handle twice as many as we have."

PCC and Mt. San Antonio College offer two-year associate of arts programs that qualify students to take the state exam for registered nurses. Azusa Pacific and Cal State Los Angeles have four-year programs, and their graduates tend to be nurses who go into management fields. Many registered nurses with associate of arts degrees seek bachelor's degrees at Cal State, and 130 nurses are currently seeking master's degrees there.

All the schools said they actively recruit nursing students, the majority of whom are older students who attend school part time.

Spokesmen at the colleges said new career opportunities for women are the main reason for the nursing shortage. They cited static hospital nursing salaries--usually under $30,000 a year--and poor media images of nursing as other causes.

"I had a special day to recruit high school students into our nursing program, and I got very little response," De Queiros said. "Three schools said their girls were going into med schools."

"People see it as a lot of hard work and high burnout," Myers said.

Rhea Williams, an associate professor of nursing at Azusa Pacific who researched the nursing shortage while earning a doctorate at UCLA, found that in 1987 only 4% of freshmen women in the country said they preferred nursing as a career.

"This is the lowest it's ever been," Williams said. "We knew we had a problem. Now we see it as alarming."

Her research shows that those most interested in nursing had lower grade averages in high school than other college students and were from lower socioeconomic levels.

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