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June 20, 2003 – The turnout of those invited to testify was considerably better for the reconvened meeting on Thursday of the Senate Health, Hospitals and Human Services Committee than it had been when the hearing opened on May 21.
Then, three of 18 persons invited to speak did so.
On Thursday, when the committee reconvened on St. Croix, nine appeared.
The subject on both occasions was nurse recruitment and retention in the territory – what the problems are and how they might be solved.
For as far back as most people can remember, the St. Thomas and St. Croix hospitals have relied on stateside visiting nurse programs to meet a significant portion of their staffing needs – even though the University of the Virgin Islands offers a degree program in nursing. Medical administrators have said it costs about twice as much to secure visiting nurses as to hire local residents. And off-island nurses on temporary assignment lack an understanding and appreciation of local culture.
At the May 21 session, Rodney Miller Sr., chief executive officer at Roy L. Schneider Hospital, said contract personnel accounted for about 55 percent of the RLS nursing staff.
At Thursday's meeting, according to a release from Sen. Douglas Canton, the committee chair, it became evident that nursing shortages locally are compounded by interrelationships.
Vera Falu, director of the Herbert Grigg Home for the Aged on St. Croix, told the committee that most of her staff nurses are part-time workers who hold full-time jobs at Juan F. Luis Hospital. If the hospital work schedule is altered, she said, this affects the availability of those nurses to care for the elderly.
Dr. Michael Potts, interim chief executive officer at JFL, said minimal funding for the hiring of nurses poses a hardship. Tracy Sanders, president of Continuum Care Inc., a private care provider for patients with terminal or debilitating conditions, cited difficulties in obtaining liability insurance for her company.
Two witnesses spoke of a recent initiative addressing both recruitment and retention – the implementation of nurse intern programs at both of the hospitals.
Darice Plaskett, director of nursing services at Luis, and Amos Carty, chief operating officer at Schneider, said the intern approach is working. The programs pay nursing school and college nursing program graduates to provide support services and refine their skills on the job from the time they graduate until they pass their licensure boards. Plaskett emphasized the need for funding to continue the programs.
Carty also spoke in support of funding for paid study leave to enable staff personnel to get specialized training in fields related to hospital needs.
Alscess Lewis-Brown, Education Department human resources director, advocated programs within the schools to encourage nursing as a career. She said Education is looking to hire a replacement nurse-instructor to re-institute the high school nurse licensing program.
The idea of encouraging nursing as a career at the high school level also was advanced at the May 21 session. So was the nurse internship concept. (See "Concerns, ideas shared on nurse shortages".)
Canton urged that pupils get exposure to the nursing profession at the elementary level and offered to assist in a survey to identify students interested in the field as a prelude to instituting a mentoring program.
Sanders noted that she has made training sessions for her staff, include preparation for certification as nurses assistants, available to others interested in the nursing field.
Sen. Luther Renee urged that all parties with nurse staffing needs work with UVI to develop training suited to those needs.
Canton said he is proposing legislation to allow the transfer of money from the Hospitals Revolving Fund to be used for the local hiring of nurses. He also offered to sponsor a nurse intern at Luis Hospital and urged his colleagues to do the same on their respective islands.
Also appearing before the committee on Thursday were Health Commissioner Mavis Matthew; Karen M. Andrews, the administration's chief labor negotiator; and Charlene Jones, Registered Nurses Association chief negotiator.
Canton said he will hold one more committee session, with the Board of Nurse Licensure, "to conclude the research necessary for formulation of a recruitment policy and plan amongst the various agencies," according to the release. That meeting, he said, will be scheduled "in the near future."

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