By LIZ NASS
Capital News Service
LANSING – While the public might perceive nursing as a career to be on a decline since the stress of the pandemic, some experts say a shortage of nurses is a misconception.
Jamie Brown, the president of the Michigan Nurses Association representing unionized registered nurses, said the problem is that more than one third of the state’s registered nurses no longer want to practice due to job pressures.
“There’s a lack of nurses willing to work at the bedside in the hospitals due to staffing concerns and work conditions right now,” Brown said.
There are about 50,000 Michigan registered nurses who aren’t working in the field now, she said.
Dean Amy Stahley of Davenport University’s College of Health said students worry about burnout as they consider a nursing career in Michigan.
Currently, no state law limits the number of patients a registered nurse can handle at one time and no limits on overtime hours. That can lead to 20-hour shifts with little to no break, some legislators say..
Brown said that since the COVID-19 pandemic, hospital nurses must cover more and more patients.
Brown said she hears stories, including one about a nurse assigned to 14 patients, which she calleds “unfathomable.”
Pending legislation would enact a 4-to-1 ratio of patients to nurses in medical-surgical units.
But Brian Peters, the CEO of the Michigan Health and Hospital Association, said mandating minimum nurse-to-patient ratios wouldn’t resolve the underlying problem of a national shortage of nurses..
Meanwhile, efforts are underway to boost nursing programs in higher education.
Robert LeFevre, the president of Michigan Independent Colleges and Universities, said community colleges have been looking to create two- and four-year programs to increase the number of nursing students.
They have started formulating a pilot program to pair community colleges with nursing students’ four-year institutions to transfer credits as “seamlessly as possible.”
That would help students continue their nursing education and make the pathways to college easier to understand, LeFeve said, adding that about 24 community colleges will announce such programs soon.
“This has been a push for at least a decade, if not more, in community colleges wanting to be able to produce more nurses on our campuses,” he said.
On the labor front, the Michigan Nurses Association is working with lawmakers like Reps. Julie Rogers, D-Kalamazoo, and Betsy Coffia, D-Traverse City, on legislation that is awaiting a House committee hearing.
Advocates say their proposal would set safe limits on patient assignments, restrict forced overtime for registered nurses (RNs) and mandate hospital staffing transparency to the public.
According to the nurses’ union, 42% of Michigan RNs are aware of at least one situation when “understaffing led to a patient’s death.”
“When you’re overworked, you’re at risk for missing something that you would not normally miss,” Brown said.
Brown said one way to recruit nurses to come back is to change the work condition policies.
Peters, of the Health & Hospital Association, said he believes nurses are retiring faster than the education pipeline can train new nurses, adding that it’s difficult to answer to patient needs.
Peters said the association opposes a “one size fits all” legislative approach to a nurse-to-patient mandate, wanting hospitals to be able to make their own staffing decisions .
“They know the ebb and flow of the day-to-day in that particular hospital on a unit-specific basis, and they make decisions about the appropriate staffing levels that are safe for patients,” Peters said. “
What we’re talking about here is replacing clinical expertise and judgment at the local level with a mandate coming from Lansing. In our view, that really does not make any sense.,” he said.
Peters also cited the experience in California, which has a similar mandate in place, saying that state also suffers from a shortage of about 40,000 nurses
Peters said nurses are overworked, but burnout that comes with the workload.
In a statement from Corewell Health in Grand Rapids, the hospital company said it appreciates the intent of the legislative sponsors and wants to “prioritize efforts to attract and retain nurses,” but also doesn’t believe compulsory nurse-to-patient ratios are the answer.
“As is, we face critical workforce shortages, and this bill would jeopardize our ability to provide critical health care services to our patients and communities,” the statement said.
Peters said there is no “silver bullet solution” to the shortage, but the fact that higher education institutions are pushing for more nursing degrees could help fill the gap..
Davenport University has had a transfer pathway to its school from community colleges since 2014. It partners with Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City and Grand Rapids Community College, and will soon add another partner community college.
According to Davenport’s Stahley, the private college has seen an uptick in nursing students since promoting and adding partners to the transfer program.
But the program, like the profession, is still recovering from the effects of the pandemic, Stahley said.
However, she said enrollment numbers at Davenport look promising, and the school is filling its nursing seats on the Grand Rapids campus, while student numbers at its Lansing, Midland and Warren campuses are on the rise.
Stahley said of prospective nurses, “They’re just now starting to get themselves back into thinking, ‘Yeah, this is what I need to do.’”