OKLAHOMA CITY – Rep. Marilyn Stark, R-Bethany, on Tuesday held an interim study before the House Public Health Committee to discuss the root causes of Oklahoma's nursing shortage and to identify potential solutions toward what many are calling a public health-care crisis.
Stark, a nurse since 1984, said she was approached at the end of the last legislative session and asked to take a deep dive into the state's nursing shortage. It's something that's been ongoing for at least 40 years she said, but was exacerbated by the COVID 19 pandemic.
"We obviously have a pipeline problem," Stark said. "We have nurses coming into our health care facilities, but if they leave at the same rate, that's net zero. We need to find ways not only to recruit and train more nurses but to keep them in the field once they enter it."
Stark invited a broad spectrum of presenters to address the challenges faced by patients and health care providers across the state, including in rural and urban settings as well as areas such as long-term care.
Bobbi Six, a former nurse, explained why she left the profession after working for a hospital. Cheryl O'Neill, a long-term care nurse, explained the challenges in her area of expertise, and Shelly Wells, a member of the Oklahoma Health Care Workforce Subcommittee of the Governor's Workforce Council, gave an overview of workforce data, salary and other issues.
The nurses detailed concerns over being properly trained to take care of patient needs, while being asked to work long shifts and take on extra responsibilities in very challenging settings, at the same time trying to balance their own personal needs or those of their families. They spoke of desiring more flexibility in their schedules and compensation that at times lags behind other industries. One former nurse said she's carrying a debt load of about $40,000 for a degree she no longer uses because she could find better compensation and more personal fulfillment in another field.
Dr. Allison Garrett, chancellor of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, and Dr. Lee Denney, the interim state director for the Oklahoma Department of Career & Technology were among educators who spoke to lawmakers and attendees at the study. Lauri Jones, director of the Practical Nursing Program at Canadian Valley Technology Center, and Shelley Miller, the MSN RN Nursing Program Director at Oklahoma City Community College, explained the challenges of the education pipeline into nursing.
The educators explained innovative ways they have worked to increase capacity in their programs, starting as young as fifth grade to attract those who might be interested in a career in health care. They've also worked to speed the process for licensed practical nurses who wish to pursue a bachelor of science in nursing degree. At the same time, they've adjusted clinical training to meet student needs and increased efforts to follow students once they leave the classroom and enter the nursing profession in order to offer continued support.
Hospitals and other health care providers spoke of ways they are incentivizing their nursing staffs and challenges they face in the future. Presenters included Karyl James of Mercy Health and Carmen Nickel with Great Plains Medical Center.
Don Blose, CEO for Spanish Cove in Yukon and past president of LeadingAge Oklahoma, a state association for nonprofit long-term care providers, spoke to the group about particular concerns as Oklahoma and national populations continue to live longer than previous generations while resources to care for them cannot keep pace. He echoed Stark's earlier comment that the pandemic exacerbated the problem.
"For a long time during the pandemic, it felt as if the Rapture had come, and God only took nurses," he said
The Legislature this year passed several bills that appropriated American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds toward various higher education institutions to increase capacity in nursing training programs statewide, but more solutions are needed the group determined.
Stark said, "I was very encouraged by the study today. Much is already being done, but there is much left to do. It is my hope that having many parts of the industry represented in the room will lead to more meetings and active discussions that result in real solutions to an ongoing problem. Nursing, all aspects of it, is a high calling and should be a very respected profession."
A video of the entire study can be found here: https://okhouse.gov/Video/Default.aspx by searching the date, Sept. 13, and the Public Health Committee meeting beginning at 9 a.m.