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Future could bring fewer nurses, more patients

Critical care nurse Donna Lusczynski, 45, has practiced her profession all over the globe — from Canada to California to Italy.

The Silverdale resident fits the profile of the registered nurse in Washington almost perfectly. Therein lies the problem.

Nearly 70 percent of nurses in Washington are age 40 or older, nearing retirement age.

Meanwhile, the 65-and-older age group, which requires more intense medical services, is expected to grow by 93 percent over the next two decades.

Those two facts add up to a worsening nurse shortage.

“There is an aging population of nurses and in the next 10 years or so, they will be getting ready to retire,” Lusczynski said. “At the same time, baby boomers are getting to the age where they require more medical care.”

Alliance for nurses

Kathy Sanford, Harrison Hospital’s vice president for nursing services, said about 11 percent of nursing jobs in the country are unfilled. In Washington, the rate is about 12 percent; Harrison’s vacancy rate ranges from 3-4 percent.

State studies show an annual average of 68 openings for registered nurses on the Olympic Peninsula.

Sanford said she and other members of the Olympic Health Care Alliance — a consortium of educators, business leaders and health-care providers interested in developing a viable health care workforce in Kitsap, Jefferson and Clallam counties — aren’t about to “sit on our laurels.”

The alliance falls under an umbrella organization called the Olympic Workforce Development Council.

“I want to make sure there are enough nurses in this community for everybody,” said Robert Washbond, an administrator at Belmont Terrace Convalescent Center and alliance member.

Health care officials were a presence at Bremerton High School’s March 21 Career Day. Another career day is planned for May at Mountain View Middle School, and Olympic College’s Connection to Trades and Technologies conference for eighth-12th graders is scheduled for Monday.

These and other projects focus on getting the “word out.”

Sanford said several recruitment projects are underway at Harrison, including the recent hiring of a nurse recruiter.

PROFESSION MUST DIVERSIFY

The shortage is partly a result of new opportunities for women, Sanford said.

“Historically, white females have been attracted to the nursing profession,” Sanford explained. “Today, girls can choose to do anything.”

Health care officials are looking to other populations, including men and minorities, to fill the need within the nursing profession.

“We need to do that anyway,” Sanford said. “Doing so would make the profession stronger because we’d have that diversity.”

Not all men are comfortable going into nursing, a profession which is 95 percent female.

“‘Why would I want to do anything that has the same title as that of feeding a baby?’ is a not-too-uncommon concern,” Sanford said.

Emergency room nurse Marlon Macapinlac, a married 44-year-old father of two, agrees that perception exists.

“I have been mistaken for a doctor before,” said Macapinlac, who practices nursing at Harrison in Silverdale. “I’ve walked into a patient’s room and they’ve said ‘Hi, doc’ and I said, ‘No, I’m your nurse.’ Others have wondered whether I am just working as a nurse until I become a doctor.”

Sanford said there’s a “misunderstanding of what nurses are and do. If they knew the quality of the profession and the expertise required, they would see it differently.

“If more men got into it, they’d think it’s really cool,” she said.

Macapinlac, has been a nurse most of his adult life, first in the military and now in the private sector. The job is rewarding, he said, but also involves some stress.

“Damage can be done with just one little mistake,” he said. “If an engineer makes a mistake, they can recalculate. You just can’t do that in nursing. One decimal point in a medication could make a huge difference.”

OUTREACH EFFORTS

Along with the health care alliance’s efforts, rank-and-file nurses like Lusczynski and Macapinlac have weighed in about how to recruit and retain young health care workers.

Lusczynski — who also contracts as an educator for Harrison and serves as an on-call nurse for a local physician — said more should be done to reach out to high school students.

“I think they should be given more opportunities to at least test the waters so they can see what it looks like,” she said.

Jocelyn Dela Rosa, a single mother and registered nurse in Harrison’s progressive care unit, agrees.

“I want to tell those young kids, the community, and families; I want to go to the schools and tell them nurses are leaders in the community,” she said.

Harrison nurse Cassie Hanson said, “We should get volunteers into the hospitals to directly work with the patients. It is a rewarding field.”

Rank-and-file nurses also recommend better working conditions, such as higher wages, better benefits and better hours, to curb emotional and physical burn out.

Not that the job isn’t rewarding.

“Nursing is being attached and showing some of yourself to your patients so they know you care,” said critical care nurse Susan Remmele. “Nursing is more than taking care of someone’s illness, it’s taking care of the whole individual — body, mind and soul.”

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