Three State Nursing Workforce Centers Suspend Operations

Nurse leaders say budget shortfalls are to blame for workforce center closures in Massachusetts, North Carolina and Tennessee.

    • August 29, 2012

Nurse leaders in some states are struggling to respond to a national call for more and better data about the nursing workforce.

At least three nursing workforce centers—in Massachusetts, North Carolina and Tennessee—have had to shut down or suspend operations in recent years due to insufficient funding, while others have had to make do with much smaller budgets.

Nursing workforce centers aim to identify and resolve current or looming nurse shortages, and many centers collect and analyze data as a way to reach that goal. The loss of three centers undermines efforts to collect robust sets of data, which are needed to ensure that decision-makers are able to make the best allocation of nursing-related resources, according to a report on the future of nursing released by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in 2010.

Without “reliable, sufficiently granular data on workforce supply and demand,” policy-makers will not be able to realize the overarching goal of a transformed health care system, states the report, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health.

Goal of a Transformed Health Care System is Farther Away

But that goal is farther out of reach in states without nursing workforce centers. More than a dozen states have never had nursing workforce centers, according to the Forum of State Nursing Workforce Centers, a coalition that brings them together. And still others are suspending operations due to budget shortfalls.

The Massachusetts nursing workforce center, which received no state funding, dissolved because it could not raise enough funds to stay in business amid fierce competition for charitable donations and because volunteers could not sustain the work on their own.

Without it, health care leaders will have more difficulty making accurate projections about the supply of nurses, said Maureen Sroczynski, DNP, RN, president and CEO of Farley Associations, Inc., a management consulting firm, and the former treasurer of the Massachusetts Center for Nursing. “We do not know if we will be able to project the future nursing workforce needed to meet patient demands.”

The Tennessee center, meanwhile, is still in existence, but there are no paid staff members and no infrastructure, said Chris Clarke, RN, BSN, a senior vice president at the Tennessee Hospital Association and board chair of the Tennessee Center for Nursing. “That obviously limits the amount of activity that can be done.”

North Carolina isn’t fully operational any more either. The main downside for the state, says Mary “Polly” Johnson, MSN, RN, FAAN, president and chief executive officer of the Foundation for Nursing Excellence in Raleigh, is now there is no single official entity keeping tabs on the demand for nurses in North Carolina or following supply-side information with as much detail as when the workforce center existed.

Still, the closures are not a total loss.

In North Carolina, Johnson and others are reaching out to allies, such as the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, the state board of nursing and the state’s hospital association, to ensure that at least baseline data about the nursing workforce will continue to be collected and analyzed. “We can piece some things together,” she said. But “we don’t have one center that gathers the data and leads the initiatives and gets the data out to other stakeholders.”

In Tennessee, Clarke and other volunteers are working together to redefine their scaled-back mission and to continue to engage partners. “We continue to work together in a variety of ways,” she said. “We need to figure out how to continue the center’s mission and how to do the additional data analysis and reporting that we really want in order to have a robust data set.”

And in Massachusetts, Sroczynski is encouraged by efforts by her state’s Action Coalition to continue to push for more and better data about the nursing workforce. Action Coalitions are state-level coalitions representing nursing, health care, business, consumer and other groups that are working to implement recommendations in the IOM report on the future of nursing, as part of the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action.

Still, none expressed confidence that the centers will resume their original operations any time soon. “Politically and economically,” Johnson said, “the timing isn’t right to go back to that.”

Learn more about efforts to track the nursing workforce here and on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Human Capital Blog here, here and here.