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July 25, 2002 -- No. 404

UNC researchers can address effects of nursing shortage on patients, nurses

Congress this week passed a measure, the Nurse Reinvestment Act, which would give scholarships and grants to help hospitals retain their nursing staffs and encourage individuals to enter the nursing profession. The legislation has been sent to President George W. Bush for his signature.

Studies by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill nurse researchers are confirming what nurses have said for years: Staffing levels and workplace satisfaction affect patient care and nurse retention rates.

According to researchers at the UNC School of Nursing, working conditions for nurses have continued to deteriorate as the nursing shortage worsens. Patient care suffers as fewer nurses are left to care for older and sicker patients.

Nurse researchers available to discuss the nursing shortage’s effect on patients and nurses, and the possible effect of Congress’ recent passage of the Nurse Reinvestment Act, include the following:

· Dr. Linda Cronenwett: Cronenwett is the dean of the UNC School of Nursing and a nationally recognized expert on the nursing shortage. According to Cronenwett, several factors are combining to make the new shortage far more complex than earlier ones. Emphasizing that there is no single source of blame, Cronenwett can discuss the changes in the health-care industry, the aging nurse workforce and changes in patient demographics that contribute to increasingly difficult working conditions for nurses. To contact Cronenwett, call (919) 966-3731 or e-mail lincron@email.unc.edu.

· Retired U.S. Army Col. Barbara Jo Foley: Foley is the director of continuing education and a clinical associate professor at the UNC School of Nursing. She serves as the principal investigator of a study on nursing processes and patient outcomes in U.S. military medical centers. Foley has found that military nurses report a higher than average level of workplace satisfaction, due mainly to characteristics unique to the military, including officer status for all registered nurses and a higher level of education than civilian counterparts. To contact Foley, call (919) 966-3638 or e-mail bfoley@email.unc.edu.

· Dr. Cheryl Jones: Jones is an associate professor at the UNC School of Nursing and the principal investigator of a study on the cost of nursing turnover in hospitals. To contact Jones, call (919) 966-5684 or e-mail cabjones@email.unc.edu.

· Dr. Barbara Mark: Mark is the Sarah Frances Russell distinguished professor of nursing and principal investigator of a study on nurses’ perceptions of staffing adequacy. According to Mark, nurses unquestionably believe that there is a staffing crisis and poor staffing is coupled with decreased quality of care. She can discuss what options are available to nurse executives and nurse managers to deal with the nursing shortage and perceptions of workplace conditions. To contact Mark, call (919) 843-6209 or bmark@email.unc.edu.

· Dr. Susan Foley Pierce: Pierce is an associate professor at the UNC School of Nursing and president-elect of the North Carolina Nurses Association. Pierce served on a legislative study group to establish the state’s Center for Nursing during the last nursing shortage and can discuss what the association is doing to improve workplace environments in order to increase nurse retention. To contact Pierce, call (919) 843-7636 or e-mail susan_pierce@unc.edu.

The current nursing shortage, recently estimated at 126,000 unfilled positions by the American Hospital Association, is expected to worsen if working conditions don’t improve for nurses, the American Nurses Association has reported.

The nursing shortage has come to the forefront of other recent health news. The New England Journal of Medicine published the results of a study by the Harvard School of Public Health and Vanderbilt University School of Nursing stating that a direct link exists between the number of registered nurses and the hours they spend with patients and whether the patients develop serious complications.

For more information on the Nurse Reinvestment Act, click on www.nursingworld.org/gova/federal/news/reinvest.htm

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UNC School of Nursing contact: Sunny Smith Nelson, (919) 966-1412