Monday, June 25, 2018
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Senators ponder state nurse shortage

LINCOLN—Nurses are in short supply in Nebraska, and that shortage is only expected to grow in severity in the next decade, right when the aging population requires more medical care than ever before.

That’s what members of two legislative committees were told Tuesday at a hearing on the state’s nursing shortage.

In 2010, schools of nursing around the country turned down more than 67,000 applicants, and in Nebraska, 402 applicants were rejected due to small student capacities in college nursing programs.  In 2008, 9 percent of nursing jobs were not filled, and that number is expected to jump to 20 percent by 2020.

Administrators at the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Nursing said they think a new, larger nursing center on the Lincoln campus will allow for more students, reducing the shortage.

The Nebraska Legislature’s Appropriations and Health and Human Services committees are conducting a joint study to explore ways the state can alleviate the nursing shortage and ensure qualified nursing care throughout the state, which may include finding funding for the new building on UNL’s East Campus, projected to cost around $17 million.

Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln, who introduced the resolution, LR285, to study the shortage, said the state needs to be proactive in finding a way to increase nursing program enrollments and fostering continuing nursing education.

Cathy Phillips, legislative chair of the Nebraska Nurse Practitioners, said there aren’t enough advanced practice nurses, particularly in rural areas around the state.

There are two key issues in Nebraska related to nursing shortage, said UNMC College of Nursing Dean Juliann Sebastian. Addressing the committees during their Nov. 29 hearing, she said there is a shortage of number and type of nurses needed as well as a shortage of faculty to expand nursing programs throughout the state.

“If another 402 nursing students were enrolled in Nebraska schools of nursing each year, the shortage would be greatly reduced,” Sebastian said. “We at UNMC College of Nursing initiated a three-pronged approach to expand enrollments.”

Sebastian said the first phase was the college opening its fifth division in Norfolk in the fall of 2010 and the second phase was opening the Center for Nursing Science in Omaha. The third phase of the plan is to build a new nursing center on UNL’s East Campus, adjacent to the College of Dentistry building.

The current College of Nursing in Lincoln is housed in leased space downtown, and Sebastian said the current facilities lack adequate space for classrooms, computer labs, conference rooms and offices.

She said the building, surrounded by bars, retail stores and other businesses, draws frequent objections from parents, who want their children to experience traditional college life on campus.

Expanding enrollment is the focus of the proposed project. The Lincoln division would be able to accept more applicants, a projected increase of 64 more students per year. An increase of 16 more master’s candidates and more Ph.D. candidates annually is projected with a new facility.

“The nursing shortage is different than previous ones we’ve had in that our population is aging, and the increasing complexity of care that patients need has made huge and continuing future demand for nurses,” Sebastian said. “People are living longer, which necessitates more complex care delivery.”

Senators on the two committees also discussed whether enough minority students throughout the state were interested in nursing as a career, how effective tele-education nursing classes are, and ways to keep nurses in rural areas.

Erinn Wakeman,

Nebraska News Service