Report: County faces major nursing shortage

The high cost of living and low number of nursing-school graduates are leaving the Peninsula with a significant shortage of nurses, according to a report released Wednesday by a San Mateo County grand jury.

As the senior population booms and children develop more obesity-related health problems, the demand for nurses grows higher than ever. The greater Silicon Valley needs nearly 400 more nurses than are currently being trained, according to experts with the Silicon Valley Center for the Health Professions.

While hundreds of aspiring nurses apply, nursing programs at Cañada College and College of San Mateo have slots for just 100 students a year altogether.

Meanwhile, expensive housing continues to drive skilled nurses away from the Bay Area, according to the report.

Health care officials across the Peninsula agree with the grand jury’s finding and say they face ongoing problems achieving the state mandate of one nurse per five patients.

“It’s a shortage all the way through the pipeline,” said Dave Hook, spokesman for the San Mateo Medical Center, which currently has a 12 percent vacancy rate in nursing positions.

To make up for those vacancies — as well as cover sick leave and vacation time — the center spends an extra $3 million annually to hire temporary nurses and pay existing staff overtime.

The grand jury recommends that the San Mateo Community College District push harder to create a new training facility called the Silicon Valley Center for Health Professions and raise salaries for nursing instructors.

While local nurses make $80,000 to $100,000 per year, instructors make $60,000 to $80,000, according to the report.

The jury also recommends that the Peninsula Health Care District continue funding nurses’ training and that PHCD and the Sequoia Healthcare District help nurses obtain loans for housing.

“I think that’s something that is certainly deserves looking into, but it might be something that’s outside of our legal bandwidth,” said Stephani Scott, CEO of the Sequoia Healthcare District.

Sequoia Hospital maintains a relatively low number of nursing vacancies — about 2 percent, according to Nurse Leader Linda Kresge, but those vacancies cost an extra $2 million per year. The hospital recently recruited new nurses from Korea, a strategy that costs about as much as training nurses domestically, Kresge said.

Sequoia has been able to retain nurses by offering them flexible schedules, free insurance coverage for employees’ dependents and competitive salaries, according to Kresge.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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