St. Petersburg Sen. Jeff Brandes is working with the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and St. Petersburg College to address a nursing shortage that he said is reaching a critical level.
As the region and state fight off the latest wave of Covid cases, Brandes said immediate action is needed to address the nursing shortage plaguing the country. Brandes hopes to accomplish this through local partnerships. Brandes pointed out that by 2030, virtually every baby boomer will be 65 or older, and the need for more nursing staff in Florida grows exponentially with each passing month.
Brandes said many nurses are leaving the profession, with Covid-related stress a factor. He added that many who stay in the nursing leave their local facilities for traveling nursing jobs that can double their salary.
“Florida is going to have a shortage of 60,000 nurses,” Brandes said. “Just as baby boomers are hitting us the hardest. That’s completely unsustainable.”
Brandes said there is no long-term plan to address the shortage in the state or even the country. Tgat, he believes, makes a local solution imperative, which requires a major investment in nursing schools. He said it would also require a total review of the scope of practice for licensed practical nurses (LPN) and others in the nursing profession.
“This is an all-hands-on-deck situation so that we don’t have nursing homes with no nurses,” said Brandes. “And hospitals that cannot meet the healthcare challenges of the future.”
Brandes said the entire nursing profession has changed, and Florida is well behind the curve in addressing that change. He said establishing a nursing school at USFSP that can train hundreds of nurses a year would go a long way to addressing the issue locally. He called USFSP one of the best locations in the country for a nursing school due to its close proximity to several well-respected healthcare facilities.
Brandes noted that Bayfront Hospital, now under the Orlando Health umbrella, is close to the school. John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital neighbors the campus, and St. Anthony’s and HCA facilities are also nearby.
“Two of those you could walk to work,” said Brandes. “The ability for us to provide world-class education in downtown St. Petersburg is unmatched.
“Tampa has a medical school; St. Petersburg should be the leader in the country for a joint nursing school between USF and St. Pete College.”
Martin Tadlock, regional chancellor for USFSP, said that he and other representatives from the university met with Brandes in late November to discuss creating another nursing program. While the College of Nursing is based in Tampa, USFSP established an accelerated second-degree pathway in the fall of 2019.
That program’s design is for students who already have a bachelor’s degree and seek to earn a bachelor of science in nursing. Students can complete the program in 16 months, and in July of 2021, the St. Petersburg cohort expanded from 30 to 50 students.
Tadlock said the second degree accelerated nursing program and a baccalaureate degree nursing program are vastly different, and more conversations are needed to see how that could work. Tadlock added that the university must address national and state accreditation before implementation, although he hopes to see a baccalaureate degree nursing program on the St. Petersburg campus.
“So, it’s complicated, but absolutely something that we would love to see happen,” Tadlock said. “Because we know the need exists for nursing in Pinellas County.”
Tadlock said he has also met with leaders representing all of the major healthcare facilities in the area regarding the expansion of a nursing program. Tadlock pointed out that there are limitations as to how many instructional, clinical placements these facilities can accommodate. Health professionals must supervise clinical placements, which is more difficult during a nursing shortage.
Additionally, Tadlock said, cost is another pertinent factor when considering another nursing program. Dr. Usha Menon, dean of the USF college of nursing and vice-president of USF Health, detailed these costs in a report released Oct. 27. Menon estimates the recurring cost for an undergraduate nursing program for 30 students is $463,100.
Menon estimates the recurring cost for 200 students, as Brandes would like to see, is $4.6 million.
Tadlock also relayed the need for small class sizes and individual attention, along with highly-specialized equipment.
“Nursing is not inexpensive,” said Tadlock “It’s a costly, essential thing to do.”
Tadlock said there is no question that an undergraduate nursing program created in partnership with St. Petersburg College would increase the number of students available to help address the nursing shortage. He said it could also benefit both colleges to share labs, facilities and resources to help offset costs.
Tadlock said leadership from both institutions need to build off of the first conversation held in late fall.
“It could provide that opportunity for both institutions to benefit,” said Tadlock. “We need to get back to it. Now that the holidays are done, and Covid is abating, I hope to get back to the table for those things.”