State Chamber, RWJ Foundation Tackle Nursing Shortage Problem

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , May 28, 2009

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Foundation today unveiled a five-year, $22 million initiative to bolster the Garden State's nursing workforce.

The "New Jersey Nurse Initiative" targets grants, scholarships, and funding to increase faculty at nursing schools across the state. A central component will be a Faculty Preparation Program that funds 46 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation New Jersey Nursing Scholars who will study to become faculty and commit to teaching for three years after they complete their studies.

"There is a real danger that the short-term easing of the nursing shortage caused by the recession will create the false impression that we've found a solution to the more serious nursing shortage that lies ahead," says Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "We have not. Layoffs and older nurses staying in or returning to the workforce postpone, but do not fix, the problem."

The initiative was unveiled today during a hearing before the New Jersey Senate's Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.

A report issued today by the New Jersey Collaborating Center for Nursing at Rutgers finds that the average registered nurse in New Jersey is a 50-year-old woman who works more than 10 hours a day. More than half of the state’s RNs—54.4%—are between the ages of 46 and 60. Nearly one-third of the state's nursing workforce will reach retirement age in the next decade.

Joan Verplanck, president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, says addressing the nursing shortage makes good business sense. "The annual cost to U.S. businesses of poor healthcare quality per covered employee is $1,900," she says. "Each year, inadequate care costs businesses as many as 45 million avoidable sick days—the equivalent of 180,000 full-time employees calling in sick every day for a full year. This costs the nation’s employers more than $7 billion a year in lost productivity."

The New Jersey Collaborating Center for Nursing reports that there are 567 full-time nurse faculty in the state. Their average age is 55, and 74 of them are expected to retire within five years. More than half the state’s nursing schools already limit student capacity due to limited faculty.

The nursing initiative will also create a single on-line application for prospective students by 2010 that will send their application to every nursing school in the state, as part of a national initiative headed by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

The initiative has set up a Web site— for anyone interested in nursing in New Jersey. It includes searchable listings of nursing programs filtered by degree, county and institution.

John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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