There is a critical shortage of nurses and other state agency workers needed to investigate a backlog of approximately 200 complaints against nursing homes in Georgia. The problem is also preventing timely recertification surveys of about 100 nursing homes.

The complaints were not considered problems of “immediate jeopardy” involving risk of serious harm to the health and safety of patients, the state Department of Health told Georgia Health News. Still, the complaints should be investigated as a matter of standard procedure. The same can be said of the recertification surveys.

But the needed work cannot be done without additional staff and there are no funds budgeted for outside vendors, according to the health department. This problem is shared by other state agencies involved in health care, including the Division of Family and Children Services that recently sought about 500 caseworkers and eligibility staff to help people enroll in Medicaid, food stamps and other assistance programs.

“Simply put, we have a supply and demand issue,” said Tony Marshall, president and CEO of the Georgia Health Care Association, which represents the nursing home industry. Good compensation packages for nursing home employees also encounter the problem of inadequate Medicaid reimbursement, according to Marshall.

The shortage of nurses for hospitals, clinics, hospices and schools throughout Georgia is projected to get worse as an increase in retirement of experienced registered nurses is combined with a growing elderly population that has increasing health care needs. The state’s demand for registered nurses will reach an estimated 101,000 in little more than a decade while the supply is expected to be 98,800. In addition, Georgia will need 10,000 more licensed practical nurses than it can supply by 2030, GHN reports. Nationwide, a shortage of nearly one million nurses is looming by 2022, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects.

Doing its part to fill the gap is Chattahoochee Technical College’s Associate of Nursing Science RN program, which graduates between 35 and 50 registered nurses every year through its traditional 16-month schedule at the Dallas campus. In addition, 15 to 20 licensed practical nurses are enrolled in the school’s three-month Bridge program to become RNs, according to Quetina Pittman-Howell, director of nursing. This program is setting the pace in Georgia, already ranked third in the state by a national nursing organization, and the school’s practical nursing program was rated No. 1 in the state by PracticalNursing.org.

Accelerated nursing degree programs are offered at Kennesaw State’s Wellstar School of Nursing and at Mercer University’s Georgia Baptist College of Nursing at its Atlanta campus. The objective is to reach students who already have bachelor’s degrees in other fields and want to enter the nursing profession.

Mercer points to a bright spot in Atlanta’s health care market, saying many hospitals “are willing to hire more nursing school graduates than ever before by way of their residency programs,” thus helping to offset the decline in seasoned nursing staff. But even with such programs, the outlook for supplying the needs comes up short, Dean Linda Streit of Mercer told GHN. “If every nursing program in Georgia graduated the same number they’re doing right now and they all stayed in Georgia, we would still have a shortage,” she said.

However, a new Georgia law should have a noticeably positive impact on the problem. Enacted this year and signed by Gov. Brian Kemp in April, the law became effective July 1. It is expected “to quickly expand the clinical training opportunities for nurses,” according to the advocacy group Campaign for Action. The objective is to keep clinical nursing educators in the state through a tax credit for training advanced-practice registered nurses. The credit is available to all advanced-practice providers of clinical training and not only to physicians as was previously the case. Thus, more students will be trained and ready to serve in the nursing field.

This case illustrates how creative cooperation between the public and private sector can result in important benefits for the community at large. Looking ahead, Kemp and the General Assembly, together with educators and the entire health care community, should continue seeking new ways to address Georgia’s shortage of nurses. There’s not an acceptable alternative.

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