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20210314-hdb-nursing

Registered nurse Cassidy Duffy is pictured with a patient in December 2020. Duffy is one of 1,164 RNs and licensed practical nurses employed by Mountain Health Network. Hospital officials say there are 215 nurse vacancies and the shortage of nurses has created challenges in the recruiting and retention of nurses in the Tri-State.

HUNTINGTON — Huntington’s two largest hospitals are facing challenges when it comes to nursing workforce development.

“The greatest challenge we face with nursing is a shortage of nurses in our area,” said Regina Campbell, system chief nursing officer for Mountain Health Network and vice president and chief nursing officer at Cabell Huntington Hospital.

Currently, Cabell Huntington Hospital and St. Mary’s Medical Center, both in the Mountain Health Network, have 1,164 registered nurses and licensed practical nurses. However, there are 215 nurse vacancies.

“We work diligently with St. Mary’s Nursing School and Marshall University to recruit local nurses, as well as work with agencies to help fill open positions,” Campbell said.

Joey Trader, vice president of Schools of Nursing and Health Professions and director of the School of Nursing at St. Mary’s Medical Center, says enrollment is up from 2019.

“Enrollment in the spring of 2019 was 257,” he said. “It was 252 in spring of 2020, but is 298 for spring 2021,” he said.

However, Campbell says the coronavirus pandemic and other factors have not helped recruitment and retention efforts.

“COVID-19 has greatly impacted nursing retention,” she said. “Due to the national nursing shortage, which was magnified by COVID, nursing travel agencies were able to offer hourly rates four to five times the average nursing hourly rate. Despite leading the region in pay and benefits, MHN has had many nurses leave to travel.”

The most recent available data on the number of nurses in each state from the Bureau of Health Workforce database showed West Virginia as the 14th worst nurse-to-state population ratio at 14.84 people per nurse. The national average is 12.06 people per nurse.

Workforce studies show nursing has been an in-demand profession for years, with nearly every major hospital hiring for one of health care’s most important roles. In 2019, it ranked as the third-most in-demand job of any profession in the United States, and the trend shows no sign of slowing down.

Earlier this month, the West Virginia Center for Nursing released 2020 data as part of efforts to strengthen the state’s nursing workforce.

Officials with the center said the information will allow the state to assess the strength of West Virginia’s nursing workforce and inform stakeholders as they continue planning around nursing workforce development.

“The Center aggregates these data on a yearly basis and has developed a consistent timeline for its collection and dissemination that will be used going forward,” said Gerald Bragg, chair of the West Virginia Center for Nursing Board of Directors in the release of the data. “This information provides the public and stakeholders with vital information about the current state of nursing in West Virginia and offers areas where we can improve.”

West Virginia currently licenses 34,215 RNs and 4,318 advanced practice nurses (APRNs). Of those licensees, 21,374 RNs and 2,629 APRNs report working in West Virginia.

“This data set primarily focuses on nurses licensed in West Virginia who work in the state,” Bragg said. “The Center plans to work on data-sharing agreements with licensing boards in other states that will allow future data sets to reflect nurses who are licensed in other states but working in West Virginia.”

Some key takeaways from the new data showed of those nurses working in the state, 38% (6,904) of RNs and 29% (679) of APRNs are 50 years of age or older.

“As experienced nurses enter retirement, state workforce planners will be faced with the need to replace these experienced nurses to meet demand,” the report stated. “One-quarter of all nurses working in the state has over 25 years of nursing experience. Loss of knowledge and its impact on quality of care will need to be considered as nurses begin to retire.”

Another report by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing says as baby boomers continue to age and overall population numbers increase, the demand for nurses continues to grow — especially in times of crisis like 2020’s COVID-19 outbreak.

“The rate of retirement for nurses is growing rapidly, as over half of the RN workforce is currently over 50 years old,” the report said. “An aging population in the United States continues to drive more demand than ever seen for nursing services.”

“This means that as the nursing population ages and large numbers of nurses begin to retire, replacement of full-time workers will be essential,” Bragg said.

The West Virginia Center for Nursing data showed over 86% of all licensed nurses in West Virginia are working full time in nursing, with 7% working part time and 6% working per diem or on an as-needed basis in nursing. Less than 0.5% of nurses licensed in the state are employed in fields outside of nursing. Approximately 7% of nurses hold two or more nursing positions.

The data also showed of those nurses who have indicated they are unemployed (3.3% of all licensees), 0.3% cite they are unemployed because they have difficulty locating a nursing position or because of inadequate salary.

However, it did show that more than 20% of nurses licensed in West Virginia live in the contiguous states of Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland. It suggests the state should consider additional ways to retain nurses in West Virginia.

Campbell said a few of the things Mountain Health Network is doing to help with recruiting and retaining nurses include pay and bonuses.

“MHN has offered premium pay for overtime hours worked and offers referral bonuses to current staff who refer nurses who sign on to work for MHN,” she said. “We are also hiring travel nurses to supplement staff vacancies.”

To view the RN and APRN Tableau Data Dashboards and the Center’s other data sets, visit https://wvcenterfornursing.org/data-reports/.

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD or email him at fpace@hdmediallc.com.

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