Florida could be facing a massive nursing shortage that could prove crippling in a state that prides itself on attracting older Americans to retire here.
The state needs about 60,000 additional nurses over the next 15 years if the state wants to avoid a double-digit workforce deficit, an analysis of the state’s nursing workforce released Thursday by the Florida Hospital Association and the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida shows.
The Florida Nurse Workforce Projections: 2019 to 2035 analysis projected a 12% shortfall in the number of registered nurses and a 30% shortfall in the number of licensed practical nurses working in 2035 if the state doesn’t move to produce more nurses.
To bolster the workforce to meet growing demand, the hospital associations have made nine recommendations, from maximizing the number of students enrolled in quality nursing programs to expanding the services nurses are licensed to provide and conducting workforce surveys during the licensure and re-licensure process.
The survey, conducted by IHS Markit, does not include data collected during the COVID-19 pandemic. Its release comes as FHA Chief Executive Officer and President Mary Mayhew shops a proposal for the 2022 Legislative Session that would cap the amount that travel nurses can charge during public health emergencies.
Mayhew noted a nursing shortage before the public health pandemic, which is underscored by the finding that there was a 5% shortfall in RNs in 2019. But the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to some front-line nurses retiring and disrupted the training of new nurses, exacerbated the problem, Mayhew told Florida Politics Thursday.
The nine recommendations, Mayhew said, address the state’s short-term nursing shortage and help to lay the foundation for long-term efforts to improve the health care workforce, which will help secure the state’s economy.
“The strength of Florida’s health care delivery system is tied directly to Florida’s future economic vitality. When retirees look to areas to move to, they evaluate the availability of high-quality health care. When employers look to relocate to other states, they evaluate the availability of high-quality health care for their employees. And, of course, in many communities around Florida, the hospital is the largest employer. It is the economic engine. So for all of those reasons, we need to make sure we have a robust health care workforce for today and tomorrow.”
Nurses provide health care in various settings, including school clinics, nursing homes and hospitals, and future need varies across all the settings. Hospitals account for 52% of the increased demand for RNs, while nursing homes account for 32% of the projected need increase for licensed practical nurses.
The analysis notes a 22% vacancy rate in Florida RN programs in 2018-2019 and an estimated 26% vacancy rate in LPN programs. The vacancies are due to several reasons, from lack of qualified students to lack of clinical access and funds to hire faculty to teach students.
But it’s not just increasing the number of students entering nursing. The report also said more needs to be done to ensure those training in the field get a quality education.
The new hospital study cites a 2019 Florida Center for Nursing report that shows the state’s RN and LPN programs perform worse than the national average regarding the percentage of students who pass national boards the first time taking the test.
A statewide effort to increase pass rates may result in an increased future supply of nurses, helping to narrow the gap between nurse demand and supply. If Florida’s overall pass rate were raised to the national average, an additional 770 RNs and 190 LPNs would be entering the nursing workforce annually — equivalent to about 33% of the additional RNs and 11% of the additional LPNs required to close the projected gap between supply and demand in 2035, the authors of the nursing report note.
To that end, the groups recommend a study be conducted to better understand why some nursing programs have low pass rates and identify strategies and resources required to improve the state’s overall pass rates.
University of South Florida College of Nursing Senior Associate Vice President Usha Menon said in a prepared statement that the college has a 96% first-time pass rate and produces “exceptionally” committed nurses.
“The University of South Florida College of Nursing remains steadfast in its commitment to provide the highest quality nursing education, advance nursing science, and implement evidence-based clinical practice to ensure Florida employers can recruit and retain excellent nurses,” Menon said in the statement.
Meanwhile, Florida Nurses Association Executive Director Will Fuller said the association is committed to working with stakeholders to ensure care for Florida’s citizens.
“This report speaks to the importance of being vigilant and proactive as it relates to the health care workforce in Florida and additionally provides evidence that all stakeholders must work together to ensure that we are able to support and promote the health professions, particularly nursing in these challenging times,” Fuller said in a prepared release.