Officials say locally, health care in good hands


January 23, 2001|By KELLY RAUSCH, Staff Writer

Though local nursing officials agree a statewide shortage of registered nurses is a serious problem, its impact on the Imperial Valley will be rising expenses for health care providers not a compromise of quality for patients.

"I absolutely would not be afraid to be a patient in one of our hospitals right now," said Kathy Berry, director of nursing education and health technologies at Imperial Valley College.

Right now, she said, "We're able to maintain good quality, but who knows what will happen?

"Hospitals aren't the only ones (affected by the shortage)," Berry added.

"Public health, correctional facilities and home health care all need nurses," Berry said. "But certainly it's more acutely felt in hospitals because that's where patients are sickest."

Virgie Galindo, assistant administrator and chief nursing officer at El Centro Regional Medical Center, explained the hospital's short term interventions to maintain quality of care during the shortage.


ECRMC has an in-house registry in which nurses may voluntarily work overtime at a higher wage to off-set the shortage.

As with other hospitals across the state and country, ECRMC also uses an outside registry to provide nurses.

Though they're competent, "it's very expensive to hire a registry nurse," and they don't have the long-term commitment to the facility, Berry said.

As Galindo explained, nursing shortages are nothing new to the field of medicine.

In a cyclical fashion, periods of shortage would be followed by periods of growth, followed by a shortage again, Galindo said.

This shortage is unique because there doesn't appear to be a growth period anywhere on the horizon, and that has people worried.

Galindo offered a few reasons for the current shortage.

"Nursing is still primarily female. Today, women have more career choices than in the past," Galindo said.

As career options increase, more and more potential nurses are drawn into other professions.

Nursing's often undesirable hours don't help the situation.

"It's one of a few (careers) requiring employees to work evenings, weekends and holidays," Galindo said.

Patients need care 24 hours a day, Galindo said.

There's also a decreasing number of nursing programs offered throughout the state, Galindo added. Students looking to study nursing have fewer options in terms of schools to attend.

All of this comes at a time when the demand for nurses is increasing.

Not only is California's total population growing, the baby boom generation is aging, meaning more people are needing more medical care, Galindo said.

Berry thinks the Imperial Valley feels the shortage more acutely than other parts of the state because of its geographic isolation.

"Big cities like San Diego and Los Angeles have a larger nursing pool to choose from," Berry said.

To increase Imperial Valley's number of nurses, IVC, ECRMC and Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District have joined forces to find additional funding to increase IVC's nursing program enrollment by 10 students every semester.

"I think (the nursing shortage is) a problem, and that's why we're eagerly trying to correct it," Galindo said. "It takes more than one facility to do so."

There are presently 92 students enrolled in the nursing program at IVC, Berry said.

Many of the program's graduates will become nurses here in the Imperial Valley.

In a 1996 survey, 75 percent of IVC nursing graduates were still working in the profession in the Imperial Valley five years after graduation, Berry said.

Berry recommends concerned citizens contact their legislators to request more money for nurses and nursing education.

"We shouldn't allow our state to be in that position," Berry said.

Staff Writer Kelly Rausch can be reached at 337-3442.

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