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Nursing shortage: Will closed schools make it worse?

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There is a nursing shortage in some areas of the state and country, but it's unclear if or how problems at West Virginia's nursing schools will affect that shortage, the head of the state's nursing board said.

Two of West Virginia's nursing schools -- Mountain State University and Salem International University -- have lost accreditation in recent months.

The board recently reinstated provisional approval for Salem's school and is permitting students currently enrolled in the program to continue. Mountain State University lost accreditation and the entire university closed.

"Is there a nursing shortage? Yes, in some places," said Laura Rhodes, executive director of the Board of Examiners for Registered Professional Nurses. "The board's responsibility is for public protection. It's not about numbers. It's about nurses who are competent and capable to take care of us."

A poor economy in recent years changed the nation's nursing shortage, Rhodes said. Some nurses who were planning to retire haven't because of the economy, she said.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the United States' nursing shortage will intensify as Baby Boomers get older and the need for health care grows. Enrollment in nursing schools isn't growing fast enough to meet the projected demand for registered nurses, according to the AACN.

There also is a shortage in nursing school faculty, which contributes to poor enrollment numbers at nursing schools.

Rhodes said she didn't know if there are nursing shortages in the areas where Mountain State University formerly served and where Salem serves.

"Even if not, there will be people who retire," she said, "so you always have to have new people in an area to keep it going."

In June, the board pulled accreditation from Salem International, saying school officials hadn't corrected earlier problems it made note of in February.

Among those concerns were failures to provide clinical learning opportunities, to determine student enrollment by the number of faculty and that the administrator did not devote 80 percent of work time to the program's administration.

Board members also noted that the school didn't provide oversight to educational and clinical sites or communicate adequately with students, according to a Feb. 25 letter to Dr. Susie Wilson, director of Salem International's nursing program.

The board recently agreed to continue Salem's provisional accreditation. Students currently enrolled in the nursing program are allowed to continue, but the school is forbidden from admitting more students.

Rhodes said the "board is a fair board and so they listened to what Salem had to say" and allowed nursing students to stay enrolled.

Besides Mountain State and Salem, Rhodes said, the board has not pulled accreditation from any other West Virginia nursing schools in her 21 years with the agency.

Schools are given opportunities to correct deficiencies before a program is closed, she said.

"So it isn't one thing goes wrong and a program is closed," Rhodes said. "Programs can correct and show improvement and consistently comply with the laws and rules."

Rhodes couldn't say if troubled nursing schools are cutting corners in an effort to produce more nurses and, in turn, better deal with nursing shortages.

It's fair to expect that nursing schools graduate students who are going to be competent nurses, she said.

"The board's role in public protection often calls for difficult decisions to be made," Rhodes said. "Those decisions are for the best interest of the public and, in the case of nursing programs, the students."

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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