Hospital combats nursing shortage

GREENFIELD — Hancock Regional Hospital officials are considering hiring bonuses or raising salaries for nurses to combat a shortage of medical professionals in central Indiana.

The hospital employs nearly 200 nurses and has openings for about four more, but administrators said quality applicants are sparse.

Nurse salaries at the hospital fall in line with the Indiana average or are slightly above, said CEO Steve Long. Nurses in Indiana earned an average annual salary of $58,910 in 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Hancock Regional has not had to lure nurses with hiring bonuses in recent history, but hospital officials are weighing whether sign-on bonuses might attract more applicants, Long said. At other hospitals where Long has worked, hiring bonuses have ranged from $5,000 to $10,000.

In recent weeks, the hospital’s human resources department has been working to determine whether the hospital’s nurse salaries are competitive with other hospitals in the area market, said Tammy Strunk, the assistant vice president of nursing.

Nine hospitals in the suburban Indianapolis area share and compare salary information and other data in an effort to remain competitive with health care systems in Indianapolis, Strunk said. Their database helps Greenfield’s hospital provide salaries in line with what is being offered in the region.

For about the past decade, at least 60 applications have been received per nursing opening, but Strunk said that number has declined in the last year, with some job postings drawing only five or so applicants.

“It’s like it just hit,” Strunk said of the nurse shortage. “It worked its way down from northern Indiana.”

Employment of registered nurses in the United States is expected to grow 16 percent through 2024, according to the United States Department of Labor. That is more than double the growth rate of all other occupations, which are expected to grow at 7 percent, the Department of Labor website states.

“Demand for health care services will increase because of the aging population, given that older people typically have more medical problems than younger people,” according to the Department of Labor. “Nurses also will be needed to educate and care for patients with various chronic conditions, such as arthritis, dementia, diabetes and obesity.”

Part of this shortage is due to large numbers of nurses retiring, Long said. More than half of nurses in the U.S. are 50 or older, according to the federal Division of Nursing.

“We expected some nurses to retire five to six years ago, but it didn’t happen because of the recession,” he said.

Now, those nurses are retiring in droves, and not enough new nurses are entering the job market to replace them, Long said.

In addition, nursing school enrollment is not growing fast enough to meet demand. The passing of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 increased access to health care services for 32 million Americans, and this demand far outranks the 2.6 percent increase in enrollment for nursing programs, according to the American Association of College of Nursing.

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Rorye Hatcher is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at ​317-477-3211 or rhatcher@greenfieldreporter.com.