Local facilities surviving national nursing shortage | CraigDailyPress.com

Local facilities surviving national nursing shortage

Jeff Swanson

As Colorado works to combat the growing problem of nursing shortages, health care facilities in Craig are finding strategic ways to plan ahead and avoid some of the difficulties associated with a community having too few nurses.

Both The Memorial Hospital and Valley View Manor are one step ahead of other hospitals and nursing homes, because they continue to compete to attract and keep top nurses.

“The most important thing in keeping the nurses that we already have working for us is that we pay them well,” Valley View Manor Administrator Cindy Barnhart said. “If you can’t offer nurses as much as they are worth, neither nursing homes or hospitals are going to be able to keep quality nurses around for very long. There are a lot of opportunities out there for qualified nurses, so if we don’t take care of them, someone else will.”

Despite the increasing number of traveling or temporary nursing services available statewide, Barnhart has found that many nurses are willing to remain in an area if the pay is right and they are treated well.

“All of our nurses have the opportunity to make more money if they work as traveling nurses, so that is something that we have to remember,” she said. “It isn’t particularly easy to attract people to Northwest Colorado, so the ones that we can attract here, we like to keep for as long as possible.

“Right now, fortunately, we are close to having a full staff even though we could use one more R.N.,” she said. “We have gone through recruiters and headhunters, both which can be extremely expensive, but we are fortunate right now to have a full staff of in-town nurses working for us right now.”

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The Memorial Hospital has had problems recruiting nurses, but is not lacking now. The only time they feel the pinch of a shortage is when members of their regular nursing staff request vacation or time off.

The competition for qualified nurses has intensified so much that many temporary positions now pay up to $30 an hour. Temporary positions offer nurses the chance to travel to different hospitals, where they can spend 13 weeks working at the facility for a higher wage than a full-time nurse.

Companies such as Nursing Inc., a Cederedge-based traveling nurse service, offer the services of qualified nurses on a temporary, 13-week basis, and have impacted the medical care profession in a way many administrators have not witnessed until the last 10 years.

“The nurses just aren’t available in the numbers that they were in the past,” said Jackie Wilcoxen, chief nursing officer for The Memorial Hospital in Craig. “Even when you are dealing with an agency, there are about 20 calls for every available nurse, which makes it even more difficult to fill our needs with a person from one of these agencies.

“Especially here in Craig, we are in a position where it is difficult to get people to move here, which is one of the main problems that we face here in Northwest Colorado,” she said. “If we do call in someone to fill a temporary position, it is usually in the case of someone who needs a vacation, or someone who needs some time off from work. We maybe call in six or seven nurses a year to do a 13-week temporary tour with us.”

According to Pat Heilig, owner of Nurses Incorporated, nurses are retiring at an alarming rate, which is one of the causes of the shortage.

“That’s why services such as ours are helping to fill some of the open positions throughout the state,” she said.

The service, though, does not come without a price.

Many of these nurses are available to the hospitals, but often at a price tag of close to $35 an hour.

“There’s no doubt it is difficult to have to pay what these services charge, but it is something that we have to deal with,” The Memorial Hospital Administrator Randy Phelps said. “It’s a very expensive way to staff a hospital and these organizations are springing up like popcorn around the U.S. Not only do they have the upper hand when it comes to employment, but they also are taking profits from both sides, and that doesn’t help us.”

The shortage of nurses is not only felt in rural areas, such as Northwest Colorado, but in the large, metropolitan areas as well.

“We send a lot of nurses to the Front Range hospitals,” Heilig said. “We receive all kinds of responses from people wanting to go to all kinds of different places. It is not too difficult to find hospitals that need nurses right now.”

Heilig, who is a registered nurse herself, started the business last year along with eight of her colleagues. She originally started with the idea of working a little less, and being able to spend more time with her children, however, she soon found out that was not to be the case.

Local training is another option that has been explored by both Valley View Manor and The Memorial Hospital, however, there are problems associated with that as well.

“We have been working on getting a program here for a while now, but with nursing especially, it isn’t very easy to do,” Colorado Northwestern Community College-Craig campus Vice-President Dean Hollenbeck said. “When you’re dealing with nursing, it is never going to be a slam dunk, because you have the government heavily involved with what you’re doing.

“However, we are in the very early, preliminary stages of setting a program up,” he said. “I think it will be a tremendous boost for both our community, as well as the college, because nursing is a profession that is important to us all.”

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