Nursing Shortage Leads To Foreign Recruits

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Payson Regional Medical Center is recruiting four nurses from the Philippines. If all goes according to plan, said Missy Spencer, assistant chief executive officer of PRMC, they will be serving Rim country patients in about 12 months.

Like another Arizona hospital, Payson's medical center is looking to foreign shores to fill its nursing needs.

Last week's health article in the Aug. 5 edition of the Roundup was about a Yuma hospital recruiting nurses from foreign countries.

There are almost six full pages of classified ads in the Sunday, Aug. 10 Arizona Republic featuring openings in the health care industry -- not all the jobs are for nurses, but it illustrates the level of opportunity in the field.

Spencer and Lucinda Campbell, director of nursing at the Payson Care Center, along with Robin Spidle, director of nursing at Manzanita Manor, discussed the Rim country's nursing situation.

Spidle said she is always recruiting nurses, though at present, the long-term care facility has a full crew.

"The nursing shortage exists throughout the nation," Spencer said. "Fortunately for us, Payson is a beautiful community to live in and we have done a good job of putting together a comprehensive recruitment and retention plan which allows us to attract and retain high caliber nurses."

She said maintaining a full nursing staff during the night shift was difficult.

"Presently we have three registered nurse openings, all on the night shift," she said. "As compared to the rest of the state and the nation though, three openings are manageable. We are filling them with traveling nurses."

Payson Care Center has two registered nurse openings and is currently interviewing to fill six certified nursing assistant jobs.

"This is pretty typical," Campbell said. Asked why there was a shortage of people in the nursing field, she said, "It's hard work. It's the most valuable work you can do, and it's the hardest."

PCC has training classes about every six weeks for CNA.

"Long-term care work is one of the most regulated fields there is," Campbell said. "People have to pass two fingerprint tests to work in long-term care. There are background checks, fingerprint checks, personal references, plus the application. As many as 40 percent of the people applying fail these checks."

A long-term care worker can have no criminal background, especially no convictions for violence.

"There are 72 infractions that will prohibit issuing a class one/class two fingerprint card," she said. "It's sad. I have seen people come in here with hearts as big as all Payson. You can tell they were just born to serve, but something they have done years ago will show up on these checks ..."

Campbell said "nurses are being used to death" in Payson.

Between the two long-term care facilities -- Payson Care Center and Manzanita Manor -- hospice, the hospital, home health care and others, there are quite a number of providers in need of the same nursing services. Plus, a large number of Payson nurses moonlight between the different places, she said.

"It's a very hard job," Campbell said. "That first year often sucks the life and enthusiasm out of new nurses. But it's rewarding work."

In fact, it is so rewarding, there are quite a few nurses who just will not retire, Campbell said. On the other hand, there are probably just as many abandoning the field altogether.

"Nurses are getting out and getting their real estate licenses. Sometimes its feels like you're serving a piece of paper, not a patient," Campbell added.

"There is no where to get a nursing degree in Payson, so we are all imports," Campbell said, citing another reason Rim country health care providers are all using the same people.

The solution is to push for more nursing education locally, according to Robin Spidle of Manzanita Manor. The Gila County Community College has training for CNAs, but the providers would like to see that broadened to included LPNs, Spidle said.

"One of our greatest hindrances in filling openings has been not having a local nursing program to ‘grow our own.'" Spencer said.

"For people wishing to enter the nursing field, attending school in the Valley is a hardship and the competition for graduates is intense. With the advent of a nursing program at Gila County Community College, nursing students will be able to complete their clinicals at Payson Regional Medical Center," Spencer said. "We believe that once students experience living in Payson and work in our progressive units, they will want to remain with us."

But that program will not be available anytime in the near future, so, PRMC continues to develop its program to retain existing staff and recruit others.

"In order to attract and retain nurses, we have put together a comprehensive program," Spencer said.

She said the hospital offers competitive wages and benefits, it also offers incentives such as extra shift bonuses and the implementation of the ‘Going the Extra Mile' program which provides nurses an extra $4,000 per year for participation in department activities such as committee work and teaching.

Spencer said PRMC has increased its tuition reimbursement program for staff wishing to attend nursing school. "We reimburse educational expenses up to $5,000 per year," she said.

The hospital is also very active in the recruitment arena, Spencer said.

PRMC shares a full-time recruiter with its sister hospital in Bullhead City, and offers significant sign-on bonuses and relocation assistance because of the stiff competition for candidates, she said.

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