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Loss of skilled nursing professionals could be dire

According to a new study by a nursing association, the number of registered nurses serving in a nine-county region of North Central West Virginia will decline by 930 by the year 2008.

The report by the North Central West Virginia Nursing Workforce Network concludes that one in five nurses will leave the profession by 2006 and adds that 2,576 nurses will be employed in Monongalia, Marion, Harrison, Lewis, Upshur, Randolph, Barbour, Taylor and Preston counties by 2008, as compared to 3,231 last year.

Now, that may not seem like a precipitous drop in RNs, but consider the fact that demand for nurses is expected to climb 1.3 percent a year. Many nurses already are working at facilities that are understaffed, and if this report is to be believed, the problem is going to get much worse.

We agree with Catherine Nolan, a researcher at the West Virginia University School of Nursing, who says that unless something is done to supplement those leaving the nursing profession, a serious crisis will develop in health care in our region.

Nolan says educators, administrators and legislators all must identify innovative ways to attract new people into the profession.

Dealing with the impending crisis won't be easy but a start was made in March when Fairmont State College and United Hospital Center in Clarksburg formed a distance-learning project to double training opportunities for students.

In addition,WVU's nursing program will accept 38 percent more students this fall and will give scholarships to top students who agree to work two years at WVU Hospitals.

More incentives for promoting nursing must be found and offered to prospective students. And, retaining nurses is also crucial to keeping this specialized workforce from shrinking even further.

It might be wise if the state steps in and promotes policies that make it easier to train and retain these invaluable health care professionals.

A nursing shortage could have dire consequences for the future of the health care industry in our region. Solutions to this problem can and must be found.

Patrick Martin

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