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Davis Pledges $60 Million to Train Nurses

Health: Plan includes a campaign to attract newcomers and a bid to make the application process easier. Experts say more openings at colleges are needed.

January 24, 2002|ANDREA PERERA and DAN MORAIN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Gov. Gray Davis expanded Wednesday on his proposal of a day earlier to set minimum nurse staffing levels in hospitals by pledging $60 million to train 5,100 nurses during the next three years.

The money would come from special funds earmarked for work force training, and from health-oriented foundations.

Davis said the proposal includes additional training for nurses, steps to make it easier to apply for nursing jobs and a statewide advertising campaign designed to attract people into nursing. The proposal includes $24 million for training in hospitals, community colleges and state universities.

"We cannot get by working the existing corps of nurses harder and harder," Davis said.

Plan Comes Amid Wide Nursing Shortage

Health industry officials have said that if his proposal is to work, the state needs to open more nursing school slots, increase training for current nurses, recruit nurses from other states and bring back California nurses who have quit hospital work.

"The bottom line is: Give us more nurses to hire," said Jim Lott, executive vice president of the Healthcare Assn. of Southern California, a hospital trade group.

The nursing proposal, which ultimately would prohibit hospitals from assigning a nurse to more than five patients in general medical and surgical units, comes amid a national nursing shortage that has struck this state particularly hard. California ranks 49th among states in its share of registered nurses, with 544 nurses per 100,000 residents, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Hospital representatives say nursing recruiters in this state sometimes stand in the hallways of hospitals as they close down, so they can recruit the freshly unemployed nurses.

"There just aren't enough nurses for anyone. We need to increase the pool that's available for everybody," Lott said. "We can't continue to steal from one another."

But Sheryl Skolnick, co-director of research for the New York brokerage Fulcrum Global Partners, said Davis' proposed staffing ratios are fairly modest, so hospitals that offer good wages and working conditions ought to be able to fill the positions.

"It strikes a middle ground between what the nurses wanted and what the hospitals wanted," Skolnick said. "And it gives the hospitals enough time to prepare."

Also key to recruitment, she said, would be making it easy for nurses to transfer their licenses from other states--something Davis has said he plans to address.

Expanded Role for State's Schools

Officials of the California Nurses Assn., a union that represents 44,000 nurses, agree that the new staffing levels themselves will attract nurses. More and more nurses have quit after being burdened with what they consider too many patients.

"A lot of nurses decided they didn't want to work in unsafe hospitals and left the profession or decided to work in other hospital settings that wouldn't jeopardize their licenses. Increasingly, nurses lost faith in their employers," said Charles Idelson, a spokesman for the California Nurses Assn.

But Lott said hospitals are already offering as many employment incentives--such as signing bonuses--as they can.

The solution needs to come at the ground level, at the schools where nurses are trained, he said. The governor needs to increase the number of slots for nursing students at state universities, which would increase the number of nurses in the job pool.

Marie Cowan, dean of the school of nursing at UCLA, said that every slot for nursing students is filled at the University of California and that there is a backlog of students waiting for openings. She said the state needs to expand baccalaureate programs on the California State University campuses.

But more than 70% of state nurses come from associate degree programs, so community college programs must expand as well, said Judy Pappenhausen, director of the nursing school at Cal State L.A. and president of the California Assn. of Colleges and Nursing.

"My preference would be [that] we encourage people to get their [bachelor's degree]. But the answer to the nursing shortage has always been to produce more associate degree nurses to fill in the ranks," she said.

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Times health writer Sharon Bernstein contributed to this report.

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