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Nurse Shortage Hurts All

June 08, 2002

Jimmy Margulies' cartoon on the nurse shortage was right on (Commentary, June 3). However, I would change the equation to read "Patient Overload = Nurse Shortage." Nurses should not have to strike, battle for legislation and stage walkouts for hospitals to provide safe nurse-patient ratios and decent pay.

The current shortage of RNs is not new. Hospital administrations have been ignoring the pleas of overworked nurses for a number of years. I still have the worksheet from one of my last days on the medical/surgical floor of a local hospital. My assignment was eight very ill patients. I retired early. It was too emotionally stressful.

Judy Crane RN

Marina del Rey


Hospital administrators have treated RNs shamefully for years.

In 1978 we organized a trauma center in our small hospital in Mission Viejo. Because of geography, we thought it important to provide this service even though the demands on our time would be heavy.

The hospital employees, in particular the nurses, responded enthusiastically and soon we were highly rated statewide in spite of our small size. Trauma nurses (cross-trained in the ICU, ER and operating room) were on call, responding within 15 minutes from home, since the hospital could not afford to keep staff on hand. Operating room nurses were also on call around the clock.

After 10 years of success and growing volume, the hospital administrator announced at a surgery department meeting that he was cutting out the incentive pay (a couple of dollars per hour) we had established for the on-call staff.

We protested that we had a successful system with highly motivated and experienced staff. He retorted that they had been "getting away with" too much and he was going to end this "favoritism." I told him that he would lose dedicated staff who might resent his attitude. I asked him to report to us in a year how much this new policy was costing in nurse registry fees.

Within the next year, more than a dozen experienced staff members had left the operating room. It is now heavily staffed with "traveling" and registry nurses, at higher pay than the permanent nurses, and new-graduate nurses. The trauma center still does well, but the esprit de corps declined and the costs went up, not down.

This scenario has been repeated all over the country as shortsighted administrators have been penny-wise and pound foolish with nurse retention.

Michael T. Kennedy MD

Mission Viejo

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