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NURSING SHORTAGE IN TERRITORY STILL ACUTE

June 28, 2001 — The story of low pay and understaffing for public-sector nurses was told to senators again on Wednesday.
Not much has changed for nurses in the territory since members of the Senate Health and Hospitals Committee held hearings earlier this year on the status of health care in the territory. As was the case then, senators were told Wednesday of nursing shortages and low wages.
Verna James, assistant vice president of the Licensed Practical Nurses Association, said that along with the shortage of nurses at the territory’s hospitals have come increased work loads.
"Each nurse has 10 patients, with no regard to patient acuteness," James said, noting that most shifts are staffed with only two nurses and, if lucky, a certified nursing assistant.
That means nurses are often required to prepare beds, pick up food trays and take patients for X-rays in addition to dispensing direct care and medication.
Dorothy Straun, a certified nursing assistant, cited a disparity in pay between staff nurses and contracted nurses at the territory’s hospitals. Some staff nurses earn $10 an hour, while contract nurses, most of whom are brought in from the mainland because of the shortage, earn $15 per hour plus benefits, she said.
Compounding the nurse shortage locally is a dearth of nurses worldwide. According to officials at the University of the Virgin Islands, fewer students are choosing nursing as a career.
UVI offers a bachelor of science in nursing. UVI graduated 10 nurses in 1998, 13 in 1999, 13 in 2000, and 13 in 2001.
According to Gloria Callwood, chair of the Nursing Division on the St. Thomas campus, a new BSN graduate whose first job as a registered nurse is in the Virgin Islands stays at least a year. Approximately 40 percent of the students who graduated between 1995 and 2000 have remained in the Virgin Islands.
In testimony given in March, Callwood said that if the work place were more nurturing, the probability of retaining new graduates would increase. Students who have received scholarships with a service clause have honored those commitments, she said.

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