An 81-day strike by Forum Health nurses came to an end Friday with everyone pledging to put the labor dispute behind them and get back to the job of caring for the sick. That's how it should be. But it would be a mistake for people to conclude that the agreement between Forum Health and the Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association means that all is well with the world of nursing. It isn't.
The strike, which was fueled by the issue of mandatory overtime, dramatized what those involved in the health care industry know all too well, namely, that this nation is in the midst of an acute shortage of nurses. It is a problem that must be addressed sooner rather than later, or else strikes over work schedules will become commonplace.
We would have preferred to see the dispute between the YGDNA and Forum Health, which operates hospitals in Youngstown and Warren, being settled without a headline-grabbing event, but if there is a silver lining it is that the public is more aware than ever of the problems confronting health care providers.
Working conditions: When 494,000 licensed nurses are not working in their chosen profession -- that's up from 387,000 in 1992 -- decision-makers at both the national and state levels must ask why. There isn't a simple answer, but studies reveal that some nurses left during the early days of managed care when hospitals adjusted to the need to cut costs by cutting staff, others bailed out because of working conditions, including mandatory overtime, and yet others simply abandoned the profession because they were disillusioned.
As a five-nation survey of nurses that uncovered widespread dissatisfaction put it, "The results come at a time when many hospitals are struggling to attract nurses, and reveal what researchers believe is a 'fundamental flaw' in the design of patient care and management of hospital workers."
In other words, there is a crisis that demands innovation in the way health care is provided.
The Forum Health strike ended when the company that operates Northside Medical Park and Tod Children's Hospital agreed, among other things, to end mandatory overtime in 18 months. A year and six months isn't a long time to deal with a problem with no easy solutions.
Nursing schools: Ohio's legislators should step up to the plate and develop ways to help Forum Health and other health-care facilities in the state meet their nursing demands. As state Auditor Jim Petro pointed out in his performance audit of Youngstown State University, "St. Elizabeth Hospital needs many more nurses each year than YSU graduates." His reference to St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Youngstown was meant to be illustrative rather than specific.
What Petro was suggesting is that nursing schools double their recruitment efforts. The Ohio General Assembly can play a major role in this endeavor by making it financially rewarding for someone to become a nurse.