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Health Secretary Tackles the Growing Shortage of Nurses

Medicine: Thompson will seek extra education funds. He also touts new rapid response team.


Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said Monday that he is asking Congress for additional money for nursing education, and he pledged to put his energy behind funding that the American Nurses Assn. says it needs to inject the profession with new blood.

Thompson also announced the creation of the National Nurses Response Team, a nationwide mobilization similar in concept to the National Guard, to respond to bioterrorism or disease outbreaks.

"In the coming years, projections are that there simply won't be enough [nurses] to meet the vital health needs of our citizens," he said at a news conference. "If those numbers continue, we're going to be faced with a potentially dangerous shortage of nurses within the next two decades."

The response team program will compile a list of specially trained volunteer nurses willing to be deployed for two weeks to respond to a shortage of health-care professionals. The team could be used for mass vaccinations in the event of a bioterrorism attack, or to treat injuries at natural disasters.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday October 15, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 7 inches; 285 words Type of Material: Correction
Nursing -- An Oct. 1 story in Section A on the growing nursing shortage said the American Nursing Assn. represents the nation's 2.6 million nurses. Although the association does claim to represent the interests of the nation's registered nurses, the organization has a membership of 180,000.

Barbara A. Blakeney, president of the nurses association, which represents the nation's 2.6 million registered nurses, said that 900 nurses have volunteered, and that 2,000 are expected once word spreads. The volunteers will be trained, compensated for their time and will be able to resume their jobs once deployment ends.

But to be a success, more nurses are needed, Thompson said.

His pledge to help find more funding for nursing education comes as his department, in a report released in July, estimates that the number of nurses nationwide is lagging behind the need. By 2005, for example, California is predicted to have 162,645 registered nurses, but it will need 181,054--a shortage of 10%. By 2020, if the trend continues, California will need 263,673 registered nurses, but will have only 55% of the need filled--142,978 nurses.

One place the shortage is being felt is at UCLA Medical Center.

"The difficulty we're facing in California is not having enough nursing schools, the lack of four-year and two-year programs," said Heidi Crooks, its senior associate director of operations and patient care. "It's not a lack of interest."

Having more faculty and resources for training is dependent on the number of nurses attending postgraduate programs, which is directly tied to the number of students enrolling in nursing programs, Blakeney said.

Thompson and the nurses group have a California ally in Congress in their effort to increase the number of registered nurses. Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) played a key role in passing the Nursing Reinvestment Act, which President Bush signed in August.

The act, for which appropriations have not yet been provided, expands programs to help nursing students repay loans and creates additional scholarships. In exchange, graduates are required to work in nursing for four years. It also provides loan repayment for nurses with advance degrees who agree to teach in nursing schools.

Blakeney and Thompson said Monday that funding the act, which carries a $250-million price tag, is key to recruiting and retaining nursing students, and therefore is critical to the nation's health.

Thompson also asked Congress to increase funding for nursing education from $93 million to $100 million for the coming fiscal year.

For the first time in seven years, college nursing programs have seen enrollment increase, said Kathleen Ann Long, president of the American Assn. of Colleges of Nursing and dean of the University of Florida's College of Nursing.

"There has been lots of publicity given to the nursing shortage, and employing agencies are letting students know there is more interest and a better working environment," she said.

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