South Carolina as well as the nation has faced a nursing shortage for years. While that shortage continues, it is not as evident as it has been due to the recession. In many cases hospitals and clinics have made do with existing staff instead of hiring more.
USC’s Dean of Nursing Peggy Hewlitt says there has been a short-term let-up in the need. “We have an aging population and an aging nursing workforce. And we don’t have enough nurses in school coming up, who will replace those in the workforce over the next 15 years?”
The nursing dean says part of the problem is found in colleges and universities, where there is a shortage of qualified instructors and sometimes a shortage of funding for nursing programs.
Hewlitt says current figures indicate that South Carolina has a 17 percent deficit in the number of nurses it will need as recovery from the recession continues. “We anticipate that we will need more and more nurses and finding a way to admit more students into programs without hurting the quality of the program is a problems for every nursing dean and director in South Carolina.”
Hewlitt says the problem varies from state to state. “Some states have a 40 percent shortfall. You have to look at demographics, who is moving to or from the state, and what is nursing student capacity.”
Hewlitt says nurses are still facing pressures of greater workloads and sometimes that’s a threat to patient safety. She says some nurses are working longer hours. “That certainly has been the case over the last several years. Some nurses work 12-hour shifts, by choice. But then there are nurses being asked to work a great many hours of overtime to cover missing positions. That’s not as much as a big deal in South Carolina right now because of the recession shortening the shortage temporarily.”
Hewlitt says a temporary relief in the shortage doesn’t mean the shortage isn’t there. “I just don’t think we need to take our eye off the ball on this. We don’t need to be lulled into complacency because right now we don’t have as many empty nursing positions and our turn over isn’t high. I think if we look five years out we’re going to be worst off than we were before and we need to do everything we can to support these nursing programs.”