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Southern West Virginia hospitals seek nurses

Register-Herald photo by Chris Jackson Kennita Thomas, left, administrative assistant ADN program at University of Charleston Beckley, and Julia McDade, assistant professor ADN nursing program, in one of their nursing labs in Wiseman Hall on Wed., Sept. 10, 2014.
Register-Herald photo by Chris Jackson
Kennita Thomas, left, administrative assistant for the nursing program at University of Charleston Beckley, and Julia McDade, assistant professor , in one of their nursing labs in Wiseman Hall on Wed., Sept. 10, 2014.

BECKLEY, W.Va. — Hospitals across the nation are experiencing a shortage of registered nurses, including hospitals here in southern West Virginia.

In an effort to fill those desperately needed positions, hospitals have been contracting with agency nurses or “travel nurses,” as well as nurses from international companies.

Rocco Massey, community CEO of Beckley Appalachian Regional Hospital, said this issue has been going on for some time. And a spokesperson at another major Beckley health care facility, Raleigh General Hospital, confirms that it’s a widespread problem in southern West Virginia.

“There are several contributing factors to that shortage,” Massey said, including hospitals in the area competing aggressively for available nurses and nurses reaching retirement age.

But perhaps the biggest contributing factor, Massey said, was the closure of Mountain State University and its nursing program two years ago.

MSU’s nursing program produced a number of quality nurses each year, so regional hospitals are now finding a smaller pool of qualified applicants from which to hire.

“We have a serious problem in regard to the supply of RNs,” Massey said. “There’s only one way to address shortfall, and that’s by meeting the needs.”

While West Virginia and, in particular, the southern part of the state face a nursing shortage, Massey said other areas of the nation actually have an excess of RNs. These nurses are sometimes employed by an agency which contracts them out to hospitals in need.

“We’ve been doing that probably the past two years, working with staffing firms to provide us with RNs,” Massey said.

Sometimes called contract nurses, agency nurses or travel nurses, these employees work on a short-term commitment, such as eight weeks. They come from all over the country, serve out their contract, then return home.

Massey said the arrangement helps the nurses secure employment, and it also helps the hospitals that are short-staffed.

“Those folks don’t have a vested interest here in the community. It’s only a short-term fix and they’re very expensive, because not only do we pay the agency to get them here, but we pay for their transportation and housing and other associated expenses.”

He said the hospital continues to look for ways to improve operations, but paying high rates for temporary nurses isn’t a sustainable option…

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