Groundbreaking Initiative Aims to Avert Nursing Shortage in New Jersey

    • June 24, 2009

Warning that “unless we act now, New Jersey and the rest of the nation are heading for a catastrophe that will affect us all,” Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., M.B.A, announced a groundbreaking statewide initiative designed to avert a nursing shortage that could have severe consequences for New Jersey residents. The $22 million, five-year “New Jersey Nursing Initiative” was announced on May 28 at a hearing before the state Senate’s Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, chaired by Sen. Joseph Vitale.

The “New Jersey Nursing Initiative” will increase the number of nurse faculty in the state, so there will be enough faculty to educate the next generation of nurses. Its central component is a Faculty Preparation Program that includes grants to schools of nursing around the state, and support for 46 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation New Jersey Nursing Scholars who will study to become faculty and commit to teach in the state for three years after they complete their studies.

Among the witnesses at the hearing was one of the first New Jersey Nursing Scholars, Maria Torchia LoGrippo, currently a professor at the College of Nursing at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey. Calling the scholarship a “priceless gift,” LoGrippo said she had wanted to be a nurse since she was a child.

“Ever since I was a little girl, I had shared my dream to become a nurse and care for sick people,” Torchia LoGrippo said. “It is a dream passed on to me from my mother, who worked for decades as a secretary in the office of an obstetrician-gynecologist. My mother never managed to realize her own dream to become a nurse, because of her limited education and finances. But given this amazing opportunity, from the RWJF, I will be able to achieve my goal to become a nursing professor.”

“Quality nurses are at the very backbone of any good health care system,” Sen. Vitale said in a statement after the hearing. “They serve on the front lines, providing care and compassion to patients seeking medical care and seniors seeking dignity and long-term care in their twilight years. They also sometimes serve as the first—and usually, most significant—contact for worried family members trying to get the best care possible for their sick loved ones.”

“However, due to a confluence of events—including low wages for nursing educators and professionals in the field, an aging nursing workforce approaching retirement, and a lack of faculty members to train the next generation of nurses—New Jersey hospitals, health care facilities and nursing homes face a massive shortage in nurses that is going to get worse unless we take action,” he continued. “At the core of the nursing shortage is a shortage of nursing educators to prepare future generations of potential nurses for the job at hand. Each year, hundreds, if not thousands, of eager potential nurses are turned away, because there simply aren’t enough faculty members to teach them the trade.”

New Data

According to a report by the New Jersey Collaborating Center for Nursing at Rutgers released at the hearing, the “average” registered nurse in New Jersey is a 50-year-old woman who works more than 10 hours a day. More than half the state’s R.N.s (54.4 percent) are between the ages of 46 and 60. This means that nearly a third of the state’s nursing workforce will reach retirement age in the next decade.

“Unfortunately, we are moving in the wrong direction when it comes to our nation’s supply of nurses,” added Joan Verplanck, president, New Jersey Chamber of Commerce. “Already, the annual cost to U.S. businesses of poor health care quality per covered employee is $1,900. Each year, inadequate care costs businesses as many as 45 million avoidable sick days—the equivalent of 180,000 full time employees calling in sick every day for a full year. This costs the nation’s employers more than $7 billion a year in lost productivity. That staggering price tag will increase as nurses become scarcer and the quality of care deteriorates as a result. That will translate into lower productivity and higher absenteeism in the workplace.”

The New Jersey Collaborating Center for Nursing also reports that there are 567 full-time nurse faculty working in the state. Their average age is 55, and 74 of them are expected to retire within five years. More than half the state’s nursing schools already limit student capacity due to limited faculty lines. For doctorally prepared faculty in particular, it can be challenging for schools to find qualified faculty applicants.

Solutions

“Unless we take action, it will get worse,” said Susan Bakewell-Sachs, PhD, RN, PNP-BC, program director for the ‘New Jersey Nursing Initiative’ and dean of the School of Nursing, Health, and Exercise Science at The College of New Jersey. “We need to attract younger nurses to faculty roles, and that’s what the ‘New Jersey Nursing Initiative’ will do. Younger nurse faculty will teach longer, and will prepare many more of the nurses our state and our country need.”

In addition to supporting the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation New Jersey Nursing Scholars with full tuition and fees, a $50,000 per year stipend and a laptop computer, the Faculty Preparation Program is working to develop, implement and evaluate new curricula for students at the masters and doctoral levels. The curricula are likely to become a model for the country.

The Faculty Preparation Program has awarded five grants totaling $13.5 million to New Jersey masters and doctoral level nursing programs. Grants of $3 million were awarded to the Ph.D. in Nursing Programs at both Seton Hall University and Rutgers University. The M.S.N. in Nursing Programs at two collaboratives—one comprised of William Paterson University, Richard Stockton College, Kean University, and The College of New Jersey; and the other of Fairleigh Dickinson, Monmouth University and Bloomfield College—each received $2.5 million, as did the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

"New Jersey Nursing Initiative” also has strategic working groups charged with: creating innovative approaches to increase faculty capacity; making New Jersey nurse faculty a preferred career; leading focused policy initiatives; increasing sustainable funding; building local, regional and statewide collaboration; and developing creative strategies to increase nurse education capacity.

In 2010 the “New Jersey Nursing Initiative” will begin developing and piloting a centralized online application service that will allow prospective students to complete a single application and send it to schools of nursing across the state. This is part of a national initiative, being spearheaded by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, and New Jersey is one of its lead states.

Information about the “New Jersey Nursing Initiative” and about nursing in New Jersey is available at the Initiative’s comprehensive Web site, www.njni.org. It features essential state nursing data, news, emerging issues, and more, with information that is not available anywhere else, including searchable listings of nursing programs filtered by degree, county and institution.