Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Blue Cross Invests in training nurses

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida is funneling $1.2 million to two area schools in hopes of plugging the nursing shortage.

The health insurer, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive, including job cuts, said Tuesday it is donating $600,000 each to the University of North Florida and the University of Florida. The state will match each gift at $420,000.

The corporate donations address a community need and a business need, said Catherine Kelly, Blue Cross's vice president for public affairs.

"Nurses are the bedrock of the health care system and an adequate well-trained supply of nurses is important to the health care quality and access in Florida and the nation," Kelly said.

Vacant jobs

The nursing shortage in Florida, estimated at 34,000, is projected to hit 61,000 in 2020. Northeast Florida hospitals reported that 8.1 percent of nursing positions remain vacant, the same as the statewide average for registered nurse vacancies.

"The cost of unfilled nursing positions is very expensive, both in terms of patient safety as well as overall affordability of health care."

A lack of faculty at nursing schools and limited openings, industry experts say, exacerbates the shortage by limiting the supply of nursing graduates. The Blue Cross gifts and state matches hope to address that problem.

In Florida 6,293 of the 10,923 qualified nursing school applicants were turned away for fall semester 2004 mainly because of insufficient faculty to teach them, according to the University of Florida.

"We estimate that within the next three years, 140 of Florida's 795 nursing school faculty will retire," said Kathleen Long, dean of the University of Florida College of Nursing. "We are anticipating over the next three years a shortage of approximately 20 percent ... that is if we don't expand programs."

Blue Cross has a vested interest in helping address the nursing shortage, said Pamela Chally, dean of the College of Health at the University of North Florida.

"When there aren't enough nurses, patients don't get well as quickly as they would otherwise," and extended hospital stays cost health insurance carriers, Chally said.

Source: The Florida Times Union

It's nice to see some of the larger companies contributing to the nursing colleges. The hospital I work for donated a "SIM man" to our local nursing school. I hope that it helps students and faculty to better understand patient care.

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