Would Oregonians be surprised or concerned to know that Gilliam County appears to have no RNs, LPNs or nurse practitioners? This sparsely populated farming county in the Columbia River basin also has no record of a dentist, pharmacist, dental hygienist, physician assistant or physical therapist.
This information is part of a bigger picture that has emerged from the April 2011 report, “Oregon Health Professions: Occupational and County Profiles” from the Oregon Center for Nursing. The OCN collaborated with the Healthcare Workforce Institute and the Oregon Office of Health Policy and Research in this significant profile of nursing and other healthcare providers in Oregon.
“This report came about because we need this kind of workforce data to address the [workforce] crisis in health care,” said OCN executive director Mary Rita Hurley, RN, MPA. The report compares data compiled by seven licensing boards to create an overall picture of the supply of health professionals throughout Oregon. Hurley said the information will be instrumental in educating policymakers and stakeholders as they address the challenges of caring for Oregon’s residents.Mary Rita Hurley, RN
What the data says
Among the data compiled is confirmation that Oregon’s nurses, the largest group of seven about which data was gathered, is aging. Sixty-five percent of nurses report being 45 or older. According to the data, 25% plan to retire from practice within the next 10 years. Hurley isn’t surprised at the age data.
“There has been a debate lately over whether or not there is a nursing shortage in Oregon,” she said. “This report clearly shows that we need to continue educating nurses to replace the flood of nurses that will soon retire.”
This data collection is the first such collaborative effort to pinpoint the supply of Oregon’s healthcare providers, Hurley said. It encompassed data supplied by the licensing boards for nurses, physicians, pharmacists, dentists, dieticians, occupational therapists and physical therapists. Seventeen health professions are involved, including licensed assistants under each board. The state legislature mandated the data collection and analysis in 2009.
Using the data
Hurley said this information verifies what nurse leaders have known: there is indeed a nursing shortage in Oregon. Oregon State Board of Nursing executive director Holly Mercer, RN, JD, agreed.
“This report shows that we really do have a nursing shortage. When I talk with state legislators, I now have facts to show them. We also know now where the shortages are.”
The OSBN has provided OCN with data from their licensing renewal forms since 2002. OSBN was the model for the data collection that OCN used as they approached the other six licensing boards. Hurley said the county-by-county information revealed in the report will help them target finite nursing resources.
“Hospitals aren’t hiring new grads; they’re looking for experienced nurses in management and executive positions. And we need nurses in home care, public health and hospice settings.”
Mercer added the geographic data also offers information that can be used as incentive for faculty to sustain enrollment in nursing schools.
Working toward the future
Having these facts at hand also allows healthcare leaders to begin developing work groups to address the areas of need or concern. Hurley said Oregon is ahead of many other states in regard to the recommendations presented by the 2010 Institute of Medicine’s “Future of Nursing” report.
“Oregon has been ahead of the curve in several areas, such as giving nurses the freedom to practice at the highest level of their license or capability,” she said. She noted the state also has been collaborating with other healthcare disciplines and as a result is seen as one of the best collaborative examples in the nation.
Hurley said work groups composed of nurse leaders and stakeholders have been gathering since January to discuss IOM recommendations. “Lots of nurses want to be involved in this; we have more people showing up at each meeting,” she said.
While professional groups such as OCN will use the collected data to stimulate the profession and carry it to a higher level, individual healthcare professionals also can make use of the information. Hurley suggested that nurses can read and act on the report by writing to their legislators and communicating with healthcare consumers about what really is happening with healthcare in their own communities. •
For a summary and set of talking points about the data, visit www.oregoncenterfornursing.org.