Nursing Shortage Portends Ill Will for Colorado

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Colorado’s nursing and health care workforce shortages threaten the health of our citizens and our economic viability, according to a new report just released by the Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence. Health care reform, an aging labor pool, a growing and graying population and a restricted number of nursing school graduates due to a shortage of faculty and clinical training space are key factors in Colorado’s looming health care crisis.

Colorado’s nursing and health care workforce shortages threaten the health of our citizens and our economic viability, according to a new report just released by the Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence (the Center).

“Although we may not feel it at the moment, Colorado is on the verge of a tsunami that threatens the physical and economic status of our communities and health care systems,” said Jean Scholz, RN and president and CEO of the Center. “The demographics in Colorado are changing rapidly. We have to anticipate these changes and adapt our models of health care delivery and education capacity now, so that Coloradans in the future will have access to viable health care services.”

Scholz cited health care reform, an aging labor pool, a growing and graying population and a restricted number of nursing school graduates due to a shortage of faculty and clinical training space as key factors in Colorado’s looming health care crisis.

“The short-term impact of the recession has made it harder for nursing school graduates to gain employment now than in past years,” explained Scholz. “Colorado’s future ability to deliver healthcare is still very much at risk due to an emerging nursing and health care workforce shortage. Thirty-two percent of the state’s 61,000 nurses are 55 or older. Colorado faces a very significant challenge in replacing these 20,000 retiring nurses as well as meeting the increasing healthcare demands of an aging and growing population.”

“We hope this report will rally our community to start working on these critical issues by creating innovative solutions to workforce shortages and removing delivery roadblocks that could dramatically help the system,” said the Center’s Board Chair, Jerry Spicer. Spicer, an RN, is the vice president of patient services and the chief nursing officer for St. Mary’s Hospital and Medical Center in Grand Junction, Colorado.

The Facts

  • Colorado’s health care and social assistance sector is responsible for one out of every nine Colorado jobs; 11 percent of the state’s working population.
  • While relatively younger than the state’s nursing population, in 1993 only nine percent of Colorado’s health care workforce was over the age of 55 percent; today it is 20 percent.
  • The average age of Colorado nurses is 49 and only seven percent are under the age of 30.

The Solutions
The Center outlines a framework for building Colorado’s health care workforce to ensure there are enough nurses and health care professionals in Colorado.

According to Anne Warhover, president and CEO of the Colorado Health Foundation, a funding organization for the Center, “In addition to reengineering our educational system with a focus on outcomes, we need to develop and implement new models of care, including medical homes with comprehensive physical health, mental health and dental services, and at the same time remove the bureaucratic bottlenecks that hinder working in the health care industry.”

A snapshot of the Center’s report provides a number of key initiatives to help with the pending tsunami:
1. Eliminate unnecessary regulatory and administrative burdens that slow down and increase the cost of providing care.
2. Ensure that nursing schools and other health care disciplines have the necessary resources to educate our future workforce, including adequate faculty.
3. Work with community providers including primary care physicians to increase the number of sites for educating nurses, advanced practice nurses, nurse midwives and other health care professionals.
4. Help employers quickly assimilate new graduates and ramp up efforts to prepare nurses for in demand positions including primary care, mental health, critical care, case management, home health and long term care disciplines.

To view the entire report, please visit http://www.coloradonursingcenter.org

About the Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence:
The Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence is dedicated to ensuring that our state has adequate numbers of highly-qualified nurses and other health care employees. The Center’s mission is to contribute to the promise for health by developing an excellent nursing and health care workforce that meets the needs of all Coloradans. Through collaboration and innovation, we are a catalyst for change and advocates for health, education and policy.

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