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WV, neighboring states see nursing shortages

HUNTINGTON – From Huntington to Morgantown to Pikeville, Kentucky, hospitals across the Tri-State are in need of nurses to meet demand.

“Due to rapid growth” and “due to growing demand,” ads recruiting nurses, especially specialty nurses, have popped up recently.

Pikeville Medical Center is offering a $25,000 signing bonus and free housing if you live 75 miles away from the city.

WVU Medicine is offering $10,000 sign-on bonuses and other incentives in an effort to hire 200 nurses to staff a new 10-story tower at J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital and Monongalia General Hospital is also offering signing bonuses, according to The Dominion Post.

“There is a nursing shortage here in the Tri-State and across the nation,” said Angela Henderson-Bentley, manager of public relations at St. Mary’s Medical Center, which operates the St. Mary’s School of Nursing. “St. Mary’s has responded by devoting more resources to retaining and recruiting nurses.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of registered nurses is projected to grow 16 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. The bureau credits this to a multitude of reasons, including an aging population, greater access to health care and need for greater patient education of conditions.

Moreover, the number of nurses retiring had begun to exceed the number of nursing school graduates in some parts of the country, the Wall Street Journal reported last week. The article noted that during the recession, many older nurses delayed their retirement, but as the economy improves, more of those nurses are beginning to retire.

Diane Alcorn, longtime nurse at Marshall Health, said she believes the shortage is in part due to government and regulatory body regulations.

“Physicians are graded on outcomes,” Alcorn said. “It takes a lot of extra paperwork. To decrease their burden, some of that is shifted to the nursing staff.”

Hospitals employ half of the nation’s almost 3 million nurses, and Alcorn said short staffing can affect the patients.

“Nurses then only do priority things,” she said. “Some services will not receive attention they need, like education, which is very important. Nurses may not be able to do that as well as we need to because we have more urgent needs.”

Shelia Kyle, vice president of Schools of Nursing and Health Professionals at the St. Mary’s School of Nursing and board member for the West Virginia Centers for Nursing, said the economy had previously kept nurses from retiring or kept them working part time.

“Nursing is hard work, physically and mentally,” Kyle said. “It’s very stressful. We have a large number who have actually retired or left recently.”

Kyle said another reason for the shortage is lack of quality nursing faculty to teach new nurses.

“It’s happening across the state and the country,” she said. “Another issue with the nursing faculty shortage is the low salary paid by many schools of nursing. A brand new graduate can make more money than the faculty, and a lot of them have doctorates. It makes it difficult to recruit to some of the schools across the state.”

Kyle said a faculty member can only safely train eight to 10 students at a time in a clinical situation, so class size can’t just increase.

 “In our state, we are going to have to have somebody address the salary for nursing faculty,” she said. “It may need to come from the legislature. Most of our state schools are at capacity.”

But even if the faculty is there, the students need to be prepared, and Kyle said that is another issue West Virginia faces.

“We need students who have a lot of science and math in high school so they are truly prepared,” Kyle said. “That’s something the school system is going to have to address.”

Regardless, it’s a career Kyle has never been sorry she entered.

“It’s extremely fulfilling,” she said. “When you go home, you know you made a difference.”

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

See more from The Herald-Dispatch. 

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