It is only fitting that key legislative initiatives launched recently in the Ohio General Assembly to address the nursing shortage in hospitals should come from two Mahoning Valley representatives. After all, the region had to contend with an 81-day strike of Forum Health facilities by the Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association -- and got a first-hand look at what awaits the health care industry in the state and nationally if the situation remains unchanged.
Last week, state Rep. Anthony A. Latell Jr. of Girard, D-67th, introduced legislation designed to encourage nursing school graduates to work in Ohio hospitals. Latell's proposal, which has merit and deserves serious consideration from the leaders of the Republican-dominated House and Senate, centers on the idea of tuition reimbursement.
Those who complete two years of full-time employment in an Ohio hospital would be reimbursed for their first year of instructional costs for college. After three years, they would be reimbursed for the second year of college, and so on, with a maximum reimbursement of five years of college after six years at an Ohio hospital.
Earlier this month, state Rep. John Boccieri of New Middletown, D-57th, introduced legislation that would give full-time nurses working in hospitals a five-year exemption from the state income tax.
Boccieri's measure warrants the attention of both the General Assembly and Republican Gov. Bob Taft.
We would hope that these and other such initiatives would trigger a debate in Ohio about the role of state government in assisting hospitals and other health care facilities meet their nursing needs.
Web sites: How serious is the situation? A tour of nursing web sites on the Internet not only details the problem in the United States, but provides a view of what is happening in the rest of the English-speaking world.
Lee Hickling's article "Keeping the Nursing Shortage From Getting Worse," published in Health News on www.drkoop.com, contends that when the Harvard School of Public Health and the Commonwealth Fund surveyed doctors in the U.S. and four other countries, half the primary care doctors surveyed and two-thirds of the specialists rated U.S. hospital nursing staff levels as poor to fair.
"In the last few years it has become increasingly clear that this country's current scarcity of trained and experienced nurses is not a temporary one like those in the past, but is going to continue, and get worse," the article states.
Blueprint: It refers to the American Organization of Nurse Executives study, "Perspectives on the Nursing Shortage: A Blueprint for Action," and lists some of the organization's recommendations: chief among them, more financial support, for hospitals, nursing schools and nursing students, from the federal, state and local governments.
That's what the bills sponsored by state Reps. Latell and Boccieri aim to do. Without such incentives, nursing schools will continue to experience a decline in students, hospitals will have difficulty fully staffing each shift and the quality of health care in this country will continue to suffer.
As the Forum Health strike so vividly illustrated, there are no quick fixes or easy answers -- but the problem is real and must be solved.