2010: The Year of Nurse

Tomorrow when we ring in the New Year we’ll also be ringing in the International Year of the Nurse. No kidding. The designation honors the centennial of the death of Florence Nightingale (she died on August 13, 1910). It launches at noon everywhere on January 1 with the Million Nurse Global Caring Field Project, a “global meditation” led by noted nursing theorist Jean Watson, and events will continue throughout the year.

Most of you were probably aware that the United Nations had developed eight Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) that nations should achieve to end poverty and improve the health, education, and quality of life of their peoples. Three of the eight goals are specifically focused on health, but the others all have an impact on health one way or another.

The target date for achieving the goals is 2015, but as countries have implemented programs to achieve these goals they’ve become acutely aware that, without nurses in sufficient supply, they will fall short. For example, how do you reduce the maternal death rate during childbirth if there are few skilled health professionals to provide prenatal care or assist at births? How do you treat TB and HIV when there are no health workers to dispense and monitor drug therapy?

The Florence Nightingale Museum, the Nightingale Initiative for Global Health, and Sigma Theta Tau International are collaborating on the initiative and seek “to recognize the contributions of nurses globally and to engage nurses in the promotion of world health, including the UN MDGs.” This coincides with the work of the World Health Organization (WHO) Office of Nursing and Midwifery over the past few years to increase the visibility and importance of nurses’ roles, both within the WHO and in its member countries. (Here’s my report from the May 2008 WHO meeting.) At the 2010 General Assembly in May, when member nations gather in Geneva, they will consider a resolution reaffirming the crucial role of nurses and midwives in advancing health.

One event to mark the year is a special commemorative service on April 25 at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. (Details will be forthcoming at this Web site.) Why not plan a road trip with colleagues—attend the service, reflect on the importance of what we do as nurses, and then celebrate with your friends and colleagues.

Nurses work hard every day. When was the last time you took time to think about what you do and the difference it makes to those who are at the receiving end of your knowledge and skill? If you can’t make it to DC, what are you going to do to honor what you and your colleagues do every day?

Lieutenant-Colonel Maureen Gara

Lieutenant-Colonel Maureen Gara, who has died aged 93, had an exacting and adventurous career in wartime field hospitals and afterwards was a distinguished military nurse.

On June 14 1944, after the first Normandy landings, Maureen Gara, a Nursing Officer with 79th General Hospital, left in a convoy to set up a large field hospital at Bayeux. On the way to Southampton, people from towns and villages which had been devastated by German bombing cheered her and her colleagues through the streets.

After a sleepless night on the troopship, she clambered down a scramble net into a landing craft, only to find that rough seas prevented the vessel from reaching shore for four hours.

She spent her first night on land in trenches with a 24-hour ration pack for sustenance. There was a battle raging outside Caen, the racket was tremendous, and the ground shook beneath her.

At 10 o'clock the following morning, trucks took her to the site for the hospital. The place was buzzing with troops – Pioneers, Reme, Sappers and Royal Army Service Corps. The marquees were up, generators were humming, boiling water was bubbling in huge cauldrons, kitchens had been assembled and trenches dug.

Crates were unpacked and an enormous Red Cross laid out. By four o'clock in the afternoon, the first casualties were arriving. Four hundred came in that night.

Mary Anne Gara, always known as Maureen, was the eldest of seven children in a family of subsistence farmers. She was born in rural Ireland, near Carrick, County Donegal, on January 18 1916. Her mother died suddenly and Maureen's aunt took over care of the family, leaving the girl free to pursue her ambition to become a nurse.

Maureen went to a convent school and won a scholarship which enabled her to continue studying beyond the age of 14. After qualifying at a training school in Manchester, she volunteered to join the reserve of Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) and, in December 1943, was sent to the 79th General Hospital at Watford.

It was a mobilisation unit housed in the dreary, dark buildings of a St Agatha's orphanage. Gara was met by a woman in full battledress, boots and gaiters who trained her and the other nurses in military medical procedures, tentage and drill. The first task was to make up 600 bed rolls in readiness for deploying as a field hospital at the front.

In April 1944, she moved to Peebles Hydro, Scotland, where she trained in chemical warfare and mountaineering. In May, the hospital moved to East Anglia with a large concentration of troops ready for D-Day. In her spare time, she and other nurses were sent out on to the lawns to sew a huge red cross made out of hessian.

The surgeons in the hospital in Normandy, she said afterwards, were the best that Britain could provide. Casualties had to be kept moving so that there were always trestle tables available. There was an airstrip nearby and an efficient evacuation system was organised.

Penicillin was regarded as the new miracle drug but in emergencies there was not time to test patients for allergic reactions. On one occasion, a soldier that she was treating had a violent reaction to the drug and reached for a scalpel to kill himself. Only with great difficulty did she prevent him doing so.

The alarm was raised one night when movement was spotted in bushes near the sleeping quarters. The hunt for a suspected prowling German soldier was called off when the real culprit, a stray cow, poked its head into Gara's tent.

While she was in Normandy, she used to watch the Luftwaffe bombers flying overhead on bombing raids. They deliberately avoided bombing the hospital area and one particular aircraft with distinctive markings always dipped its wing as it passed over the hospital. Some years later, at an event in Germany, Maureen Gara mentioned this. One of the pilots present said: "Madam, that was my plane."

In September, Gara moved with the hospital to Holland for the battles of Arnhem and the Rhine crossing. On the way, she stopped in Brussels for her first proper bath since leaving England.

After the war, she applied to join the Regular QAIMNS, later designated the Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps (QARANC), and was posted to India. She subsequently served in the Middle East, in Singapore and at the Commonwealth Hospital, Terendak, Melaka, Malaysia, where she was deputy matron.

In 1967, she was promoted lieutenant-colonel and posted to the QARANC training centre as chief instructor. Two years later, she was awarded the Royal Red Cross for excellence in military nursing and she moved to the Queen Alexandra Hospital, Millbank, as matron. She retired in 1971.

Settled in the Aldershot area, she became involved with the Normandy Veterans and Queen Alexandra Associations and served as a trustee and subsequently chairman of the latter for a total of 11 years. She never lost her love of her native Ireland and its traditional music – her father and two of her brothers played the fiddle. She also enjoyed travelling and went on several world cruises.

In 2004, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of D-Day, a stamp of St Vincent and the Grenadines was printed in her honour.

Maureen Gara died on October 19. She never married.

Critical nursing scarcity looming

Registered nurse Shirley Cooley, right, helps nursing student Anna Hung-Chan give a vaccine to a newborn at Mount Carmel East hospital on the Far East Side.

The bad economy might make it seem as if there's no shortage of nurses in central Ohio, but experts say the situation is temporary.

"We are seeing nurses who might have been considering leaving the profession, ready to retire, and they're not doing that," said Janice Lanier, deputy executive officer of the Ohio Nurses Association.A recent report from the Health Policy Institute of Ohio projects that Ohio is one of three states, along with Texas and California, that will have the greatest need for nurses in a decade.

Researchers expect Ohio to be short 32,000 nurses by 2020.

Besides an aging population with more chronic medical conditions, impending health reform could mean that 1.3 million uninsured Ohioans will have insurance.

"They can start coming into (medical) practices, and what's that going to do to the demand on getting in?" said William Hayes, president of the policy institute. "We have to be ready for the need."

Advanced-practice nurses, including nurse practitioners, could provide newly insured people with primary medical care.

"Just because we don't have the shortage hitting us over the head every day now, we should not take it off the policy plate," Lanier said.

There are more than 2.4 million registered nurses in the United States, making it the largest health profession. The average age of an Ohio nurse is 47, and the median age of a nursing faculty member is 51.

Nursing schools still have waiting lists, but that's because there are not enough faculty members to train future nurses, experts say.

Plus, some local hospitals aren't hiring nurses the way they did a few years ago because of the economy.

Sarah Strohminger, a junior at MedCentral College of Nursing in Mansfield, said she knows of nursing graduates who could not find work in Mansfield or Columbus.

Strohminger, president of the Ohio Nursing Students' Association, said she plans to work as a patient care assistant at MedCentral to get her foot in the door at the hospital.

Ann Schiele, president of the Mount Carmel College of Nursing, said all 160 nurses who graduated from there in May have found jobs.

"It may not have been their first position of choice … but by August every student that I was aware of had a position," she said.

Ohio State University Medical Center, which hasn't made the cutbacks that other local hospital systems have, continues to hire nurses, including at least 140 new graduates every year.

"There is not a shortage in central Ohio of new grads, but there will always be a shortage of specialized nurses," said Karen Bryer, director of medical-center recruitment at Ohio State.

Specialized nurses include those trained to work in intensive-care and neonatal units, and advanced-practice nurses such as nurse anesthetists.

Schiele expects the local hiring lull to end in about three years, and then there will be an immediate need for nurses. By then, aging faculty members will be retiring.

"It's all very important that we get the funding to educate the faculty in the master's and doctoral programs," she said.

That's where state officials could come in. The state could help pay off student loans or provide grants, tuition assistance for nurses who want to teach, or a refundable tax credit for nursing faculty members.

There have been some state policy moves to address the shortage.

These include changing the Nurse Education Assistance Loan Program in the state's budget bill this year to forgive student loans of nursing master's students who teach nursing at an Ohio school, Allison Kolodziej, Gov. Ted Strickland's spokeswoman wrote in an e-mail.

Lanier said policymakers shouldn't wait until hospitals complain that there aren't enough nurses.

"There's nothing worse from a patient-safety perspective than having an entire floor staffed with brand-new nurses," Lanier said. "You need to have that mix."


Nursing crisis looms as baby boomers age

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- America could be facing a nursing shortage that will worsen exponentially as the population grows older.

The problem: Baby boomers are getting older and will require more care than ever, taxing an already strained nursing system.

America has had a nursing shortage for years, said Peter Buerhaus, workforce analyst at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing in Nashville, Tenn. But by 2025, the country will be facing a shortfall of 260,000 RNs, he said.

"In a few short years, just under four out of 10 nurses will be over the age of 50," said Buerhaus. "They'll be retiring out in a decade. And we're not replacing these nurses even as the demand for them will be growing."

That's because nursing schools are already maxed out.

"We've got to find another portal to bring nurses into the profession," said Claire Zangerle, chief executive of the Visiting Nurse Association of Ohio and former chief nursing officer at the Cleveland Clinic. "We don't have enough nursing instructors, so therefore the capacity of nursing schools is very limited."

The nursing profession has benefited from the recession, which has prompted new nurses to sign up for school and older nurses to postpone retirement, Buerhaus said.

Some 243,000 registered nurses entered or re-entered the profession during the recession that began in 2007, he said, including many who were forced out of retirement by financial difficulties.

But as the economy improves that kind of growth is unlikely to continue. And experts stress that there will be a nursing shortage even if every nursing school is at capacity.

A lack of teaching staff is the biggest hurdle to minting new RNs, according to Cheryl Peterson, director of nursing practice and policy for the American Nurses Association

"The problem on the supply side is that our current nursing education capacity is at its limit," she said. "[Nursing schools] are pumping out about as many as they can."

Dr. Mary O'Neil Mundinger, the dean of Columbia University Nursing School in New York, said the number of applicants jumped 20% this year to about 400. She said the roster includes professionals seeking a career switch from Wall Street, law and even the opera.

"Making choices between these extremely well qualified applicants is really daunting," she said, noting that the school has capacity for only half the applicants.

Indeed, Claire Zangerle from the Visiting Nurse Association of Ohio said her niece spent two years on a waiting list before getting accepted into a nursing school.

It's hard to recruit and retain nursing instructors when they can usually make more money working in a hospital.

The average starting pay for an RN is about $56,000, according to the American Nurses Association. Mundinger said that the most ambitious graduates can earn as much as $90,000 if they're willing to work long hours, including weekends and night shifts, in busy metropolitan hospitals.

"They need to pay nursing faculty a wage that is attractive enough," said Peterson of the ANA, "You have nurses working in hospital units who are making more than the nurses in education."

Barry Pactor, international director of global health care for consulting company HCL International, agrees that more nurses should be trained within the U.S. system. But as a short term solution for this "huge shortage," he said the U.S. government should loosen immigration restrictions on foreign health care workers.

"I don't see this as foreign nurses taking American jobs, because these are vacancies that already exist and cannot be [filled] by nurses currently in training," he said. "We'd be filling in the gaps until the training can catch up with the demand."

Inept nurses free to work in new locales

The frantic knocking of home health nurse Orphia Wilson startled the boy's parents awake just after dawn.

Their 3-year-old son, who suffered from chronic respiratory failure and muscular dystrophy, had stopped breathing.

The boy's mother raced to his side and began performing CPR as Wilson stood by. It was too late. Jexier Otero-Cardona died at a Hartford, Conn., hospital the next day.

In the months that followed Jexier's May 2005 death, Connecticut health officials discovered that Wilson had fallen asleep, then ignored -- or possibly turned off -- ventilator alarms that signaled the boy was not getting enough oxygen, state records show.

And Jexier, they learned, was not the first child to die under Wilson's care. Seven months earlier, she had lost her registered nursing license in Florida for similar lapses in the death of another boy in 2002. In that case, 21-month-old Thierry LaMarque Jr. had stopped breathing while Wilson was caring for him at her Orlando home. Instead of calling 911, she tried CPR, then drove the boy's limp body three miles to his parents' house.

"She said she panicked," recalled the boy's mother, Glenda Brown, who was summoned home and found her dead son still strapped into his car seat. "Why would you bring him to my house if he passed at your house?"

Wilson's case highlights a dangerous gap in the way states regulate nurses: They fail to effectively tell each other what they know. As a result, caregivers with troubled records can cross state lines and work without restriction, an investigation by the nonprofit news organization ProPublica and The Times found.

Using public databases and state disciplinary reports, reporters found hundreds of cases in which registered nurses held clear licenses in some states after they'd been sanctioned in others, often for serious misdeeds. In California alone, a months-long review of its 350,000 active nurses found at least 177 whose licenses had been revoked, surrendered, suspended or denied elsewhere.

Such breakdowns are readily fixable. Yet state regulators aren't using their powers to seek out this information, or act on what they find, the investigation found.

Florida officials, for instance, didn't notify Connecticut authorities when they sanctioned Wilson -- even though she'd told them that she also held a Connecticut license. And Connecticut's nursing board renewed Wilson's license three times after Thierry's death, relying on her pledge that she hadn't been disciplined or investigated elsewhere.

By simply typing a nurse's name into a national database, state officials can often find out within seconds whether the nurse has been sanctioned anywhere in the country and why. But some states don't check regularly or at all.

The failure to act quickly in such cases has grave implications: Hospitals and other healthcare employers depend on state nursing boards to vouch for nurses' fitness to practice.

"It only takes one outlier to end up killing a bunch of patients," said Robert E. Oshel, who retired last year as an associate director at the federal agency that runs discipline databases on health providers. "The fact that the vast majority of nurses don't cause problems and are fine professionals . . . doesn't mean you shouldn't be very vigilant against the few who aren't."

State practices vary

Because there is no federal licensing of nurses, each state sets its own standards on punishable behavior.

In general, states can discipline a nurse based solely on the actions taken by another state. But they vary widely in how quickly -- or harshly -- they act on this information, according to interviews with regulators in 14 states.

Under the law in Virginia and Louisiana, for instance, officials must immediately suspend nurses' licenses for serious misconduct in another state. Nurses are barred from practicing unless they successfully appeal.

Missouri, on the other hand, must personally serve all accused nurses with written charges and offer hearings to contest them. If nurses can't be found, their licenses remain clear and they are free to continue practicing, said Lori Scheidt, executive director of Missouri's nursing board.

Delays in several states left Craig Smart free to practice. In 2000, he surrendered his license in Florida after testing positive for cocaine and flunking a treatment program. It took eight years for five other states in which he was licensed to respond to Florida's action. California was the last to revoke his license, in 2008, after he had practiced here for several years, apparently without incident.

Even when states share borders, they sometimes fail to heed each other's disciplinary actions. At least 10 nurses, for example, hold clear licenses in Massachusetts despite being disciplined next door in Rhode Island, including suspensions for drug thefts and violence.

Nurse Karen Rheuame's Rhode Island license was suspended in 2007 after she was arrested on suspicion of assaulting a woman in a wheelchair in a hospital emergency room and trying to steal her pocketbook, according to state disciplinary records. She also had numerous other convictions and, records show, had once brought two beers to work, which she explained to her boss were for "the ride home."

But she's free to practice in Massachusetts. A health department official there said regulators are reviewing Rheuame's case and others to see if action is warranted, but they haven't received any complaints about the nurses in Massachusetts.

Rheuame said she'd made mistakes but has completed rehabilitation for addiction. "I'm not going to minimize what I did," she said. "I've really turned my life around since then."

There is ample information available for states to identify nurses disciplined by other jurisdictions. Two separate databases attempt to track disciplinary actions from every state. States are required to report to one, run by the federal government, within 30 days of taking an action. Reporting to the other, operated by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, is voluntary.

Each database can be programmed to alert a state whenever a nurse it has licensed runs into trouble in another state.

When checking a nurse's record, nursing officials say they almost uniformly use the council's database; it's free and the government's is not. In fact, federal statistics show that nursing boards accessed the government database fewer than 300 times total in 2007 and 2008.

In addition, ProPublica and The Times found that the federal database is incomplete, despite the requirement that all states report discipline to it. Many actions appeared to be missing when reporters tried to match known cases by date of discipline to a version of the database in which confidential information had been removed.

Some regulators are vigilant, while others are not.

Louisiana, for example, checks the council database every day for discipline involving its nurses, its board director said. Rhode Island does it once a month, an official said.

New York, by contrast, uses it primarily to look into the backgrounds of people applying for nursing licenses. It typically does not check it for problems involving the 266,000 registered nurses already licensed to practice in New York.

Barbara Zittel, head of the New York board, said she relies on other states to notify her if one of her nurses has been disciplined and she counts on the nurses themselves to honestly disclose their problems. It works, she says, "unless someone is lying to us."

Officials at the National Council of State Boards of Nursing said they don't tell nursing boards how often to consult their database. But tools are there to help them. State boards imposing discipline, for instance, can send out warnings known as "speed memos" to flag other states.

But the council's database continues to have significant weaknesses. Nearly all states report their disciplinary information to the council, according to its website. Yet only 37 states and the District of Columbia supply it with the names of all their licensees.

As a result, it's difficult for regulators to know who is licensed in the 13 other states, including California, and when to alert them about discipline. Those states account for more than 40% of the nation's approximately 3.5 million registered nursing licenses.

The council cannot force states to submit names, and states have a financial incentive not to: They make money by charging nurses to verify their licenses, test scores and training to authorities in other states. For example, a nurse licensed in California who wants credentials to practice in Arizona must pay California $60 to confirm her background. Those sorts of checks netted California nearly $1 million in fiscal 2009. New York, which charges $20 a check, earns more than $250,000 a year.

When states turn over their lists of licensed nurses to the national council, that group earns such verification fees. "The decision to join is a revenue loss for them," said Kathy Apple, the council's chief executive officer. "That's difficult for some states."

Barbara Morvant, executive director of Louisiana's board, said the trade-off was worth it. After the board submitted the names of all its licensees last year, it saw an immediate upswing in the number of disciplinary actions it discovered.

"While it was a loss of revenue to our state, it was a benefit to the public," she said.

To estimate the scope of the problem nationwide, ProPublica and The Times searched the records of the nation's largest state, looking for examples of nurses licensed in California who had been disciplined elsewhere.

California's Board of Registered Nursing has historically done little on its own to ferret out such problems. Until last year, the state did not even ask nurses renewing their licenses whether they had been disciplined by another state.

Moreover, the board only checked nurses' records against the council's database of disciplinary actions when they applied for a California license. Since August, California also has been checking the database when the board begins an investigation of a nurse.

Sanctions found

Reporters went further, checking the full roster of 350,000 licensed nurses against a public version of the council database. They found that at least 643 California nurses had sanctions elsewhere, including the 177 whose licenses had been revoked, suspended, denied or surrendered.

Among them are:

* Jose Martinez, who surrendered his license in Texas in July 2008 after being accused of performing a rectal exam on an 11-year-old girl without a doctor's order or a witness present. In a letter to the Texas board, Martinez acknowledged his misconduct. "Yes, I made a mistake and, yes, I am guilty. After 4 years as a tech and 12 years as a nurse I slip and fall. . . . I guess I deserve what is coming to me."

His California license is active, without restrictions, and does not expire until July 2010.

* Jeffrey Strong, whose license was indefinitely suspended in Virginia in September 2008 after he allegedly left his post at a hospital psychiatric ward with the medication cart unattended. He had previously been disciplined for medical errors at another hospital in the state, including failing to monitor a patient who fell and as a result required emergency surgery.

"I was not providing safe care on that unit at that time and could not now," he wrote the Virginia nursing board in December 2007 about that earlier discipline. Strong has a clear license in Florida as well as California.

* Randy Hopp, who was convicted in 2004 of assaulting a nursing home resident in Minnesota. It was the fourth facility since 1998 at which he had been accused of mistreating a resident, records show. The nursing boards in Minnesota and Missouri placed him on probation, and Kansas imposed restrictions on his practice. Hopp surrendered his license in Texas. In California, his license remains clear.

Martinez and Strong could not be reached for comment. Hopp declined to comment, saying the discipline was in the past. Reporters could not determine if or where they and others in this article were working, because this information is not collected by most states.

Asked about this article's findings, California officials said regulators will now check for out-of-state discipline for every licensee by the end of March. At its February meeting, the nursing board plans to discuss additional steps to better use the council's database.

California is also working to speed up the pace of discipline.

In the past, the board took a median of 13 months to file public accusations against nurses after their licenses were first revoked, surrendered, denied or suspended by another state, according to a review of 258 such cases since 2002.

Three of these nurses got work and stole drugs from California hospitals after they had surrendered their licenses across the border in Nevada for previous wrongdoing there.

Experts and regulators say the patchwork nature of nursing regulation in the country underscores the importance of a complete national database. State regulators should be required not just to submit their licensees, they said, but to routinely check to see if their nurses have been disciplined elsewhere.

Currently, only information about completed sanctions is available. Some experts say formal accusations, detailing charges against nurses, should be included too. "The more information that's available as quickly as possible and shared as fully as possible . . . the better off you are," said Oshel, the former federal official.

Such efforts might have kept Orphia Wilson from moving easily from Florida to Connecticut. Within days after Florida regulators revoked her license in October 2004, they reported the action to the federal government's database. Sometime later, the information was put into the council database.

As is their practice, however, Florida officials didn't report their action to other states. Connecticut, as is its practice, did not regularly check the national databases.

The next year, Wilson once again renewed her Connecticut license, checking "no" when asked if she had been disciplined elsewhere.

Wilson, who did not respond to requests for comment, wrote in a sworn statement to investigators later: "I am very sorry about the deaths of the babys I cared for. Believe me I went through my share of guilt."

The month after Jexier's May 2005 death, she was back at work, as a supervisor in a Connecticut nursing home.

Connecticut suspended Wilson's license in June 2006 and revoked it several months later. The nurse was sentenced to jail last year for reckless endangerment and hiding her Florida discipline from Connecticut.

In an e-mail response to questions, a Connecticut health department spokesman blamed Wilson for hiding her past, and said communication among states has improved.

Christopher T. Godialis, who prosecuted Wilson for the Connecticut chief state attorney's office, said a system that relies chiefly on the honesty of such nurses does so at its peril.

"The way the situation is set up now, there's no way for Connecticut to have known about what happened in Florida unless Orphia had told them," he said. "The state didn't check anything."

Want to be a nurse? Train in the Philippines

BAY NEWS 9 -- With the currently shortage of nurses in Florida, many students are studying for a career in nursing.

But that's led to another problem: classrooms don't have enough space to accomodate all the students who want to pursue nursing as a career.

A new nursing school called Nursing Career Connections has initiated an online program, where a student can become an LPN after completing classes and a four-month trip to the Phillipines for clinical work.

The Florida Center for Nursing says by 2014 there will be more than 36,000 new nursing jobs available, but nowhere near enough people to fill those jobs.

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