Despite concerns about employment as a consequence of the recession, nursing vacancies grow steadily everyday. Over the course of the last ten years, Americans have experienced a nursing shortage the likes of which had not been seen since the 1960s. Despite attempts at righting the shortage, America is still looking at a gap of over 100,000 nursing positions nationwide.
It is almost impossible for the need for nurses created by aging baby boomers to be satisfied with current resources. Without major changes made soon by legislators, the vacancy rate could as much as quadruple. Obama’s healthcare reforms could only exacerbate the problem by increasing the number of insured Americans by millions, without a healthcare infrastructure in place to take on the burden. There simply aren’t enough nurses who to fill the demands.
Floridian Representative Robert Wexler has proposed a bill to help fill in the short term nursing crisis. The Democrat announced in May of 2009 that his bill would allow for the extension of 20,000 visas to foreign nurses every year for the next three years, bringing in 60,000 nurses total, and providing for 60% of today’s shortage. Should the bill in its current form not pass through the Senate, legislators plan to add an immigration reform package to the bill. Obama spoke to the legislators about the bill this summer in order to discuss even further immigration reform.
Many proponents of the bill to allow immigrants to fill positions in American hospitals are looking for temporary relief. Unpopular areas have a difficult time attracting qualified nurses, and the bill would help to assuage this problem. Dozens of nurses from Canada, the Philippines and Mexico would be eager to take any position, regardless of the area. Though these visas would eventually expire, sending the nurses back to their nations of origin, hospitals currently undergoing shortages of registered nurses would be helped quickly.
Labor unions disagree. Unions are arguing that providing a foreign labor source would limit the incentive of hospital administrators to create more pleasant working environments because they know that their positions will be filled no matter how they treat their employees. Labor unions are afraid that removing such a significant number of nurses from other countries could cause nursing shortages overseas. Bringing in already registered nurses who have been driven from the field by stagnant pay and poor work conditions is the favored plan, as it brings experience back to the field.
Supporters of Obama’s healthcare reforms also reject Representative Wexler’s Bill, hoping that Obama’s economic stimulus does enough to promote a long term solution to the nursing shortage. Obama included $500 million to benefit healthcare workers, by increasing education and encouraging students to pursue the field either at traditional universities or via distance learning with an online nursing degree. Additionally, Obama hopes to cut down on the effects of the recession by increasing the capacity at nursing schools, allowing workers from other industries to gain the education they need to become nurses. This would cut down on unemployment while closing the nursing gap, simultaneously.