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Hospitals see need for nurses

A growing national nursing shortage is affecting Clagett Memorial Hospital in Rifle and Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the country is in the midst of a nursing shortage that will only intensify as baby boomers age and the need for health care grows.

Currently there are 126,000 vacancies for nurses at hospitals across the country, the association’s website reports. And 75 percent of all hospital vacancies are for nurses.



Further, the number of students enrolled in academic nursing programs is declining. In fact, that number declined over 28 percent from 1995 to 2000, the association said.

“We’re always looking for nurses,” said Grand River Hospital District spokeswoman Kris Swanson.



Clagett tries to keep its salaries competitive to retain nurses and maintain a good working environment.

Many young women and men are opting for medical school rather than nursing school these days, she said.

“Kids are less interested in becoming nurses. They’d rather be doctors. I think it’s seen as being not as glamorous as it used to be. People see it as high risk with AIDS and hepatitis C,” Swanson said.

However, Grand River’s recruiting efforts have succeeded.

“We’ve done well from the area communities,” she said.

The district recruits nationally for nursing supervisors, she added.

Both hospitals use what are called “traveler” nurses. They fill temporary positions until a vacancy can be filled permanently, Swanson said.

And they make double the rate of full-time nurses.

“Usually they live in Colorado and are young and single. Usually they are well skilled,” Swanson said.

Both hospitals are more likely to hire travelers in the winter when flu and colds send lots of folks to the hospital and staff is short.

“It always tough. We’re usually slower in the summer,” Swanson said.

Travelers allow hospitals to maintain the number of beds they can service, said Deb Wiepking, chief clinical officer at Valley View Hospital.

“Valley View does use them when we have to. My goal is to have less than one percent of our salaries in contract labor,” she said.

Valley View pays the agencies that place travelers $40 to $45 a hour for their services. Wiepking said the nurses themselves make between $30 to $35 an hour.

Nursing positions at the hospital have remained fairly stable at Valley View, with a 9 percent turnover rate over the past two years, she said.

“The national average is between 18 and 20 percent,” she said.

She attributes this stability “to the nursing leadership and the Plane Tree philosophy. We allow nurses to do what they want to do. Nurses want to spend time at the bedside with patients, not sitting doing charts,” she said.

“They write policies and procedures. It’s collaborative governance” between the nurses and the administration, Wiepking said.

Wiepking has also developed a close relationship with nursing programs at Colorado State University, the University of Northern Colorado, the University of Colorado and Colorado Mountain College.

Nursing students get clinical experience at Valley View and also learn it’s a good place to work, she said.

As a not-for-profit hospital, Valley View can turn its revenues back into programs that support employee retention.

“All the money we make we put back, into nursing school scholarships and continuing education for the staff,” Wiepking said.


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