In Focus: Southeast Ohio in Need of Nurses

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The need for healthcare workers in Southeast Ohio is increasing dramatically, and officials predict that there will be a shortage of nearly 32,000 nurses in Ohio by 2020. 

Currently, there are 62,000 registered nurses working in Ohio hospitals, which is an increase from 56,480 in 2000. According to the Ohio Hospital Association, in the coming decade, there will be a need for nearly 200,000 nurses.

Now, the average age of an Ohio registered nurse is 47 years old.  The 2010 Ohio census shows that nearly 17 percent of Ohio’s population is aged 62 or older, and as that population ages, more healthcare workers will be needed to care for them.

Greg Long, the President of O’Bleness Memorial Hospital in Athens, said that many of his hospitals’ nurses have stayed with the company for a significant number of years.

“About 75 percent of our nurses have been here for under 20 years. And we have 25 percent that is over 20 years. We have nine that have been here for over 30 years,” he said.

This could spell trouble for healthcare facilities in Southeast Ohio, as baby boomers age and mass-retirement approaches. Facilities such as O’Bleness and Holzer Health System will soon look to a younger generation of nurses to supplement the need in Appalachia.  But will there be enough of that younger generation to meet the growing health care needs?



Solution in Sight?

Sherleena Buchman is the coordinator of the Bachelors of Science in Nursing program at Ohio University. She said she already sees a demand for her students within a 60-mile radius of Athens, but keeping students in the area to work is another issue.

“It’s kind of a culture shock to come to Appalachia if they’re not used to being here. I think that could be a negative for some people, but I think that for some people that becomes a positive,” said Buchman.


Long agrees with Buchman’s opinion. “I do think there is some draw to the urban areas, but the thing I’ve seen, I’ve seen a lot of folks come here and go to Ohio University. They come here and they fall in love with the community and the region and the things it has to offer. And for that reason, a lot of people stay,” he said.

There are a few programs in the area that offer associate degree nursing programs, such as Rio Grande College in Rio Grande and Hocking College in Nelsonville. However, Ohio University is the only program in the area that now offers a bachelor’s degree nursing program.

Demand for Degrees

Pat Connors, the Executive Vice President and CEO of the Holzer Health System says that in the future, he predicts an increase in the need for nurses with a bachelor’s degree.

“I see a bigger demand for nurses, BSNs, that level, than there is currently,” Connors said.

Ohio University implemented the BSN program in 2009, and graduated its first group of bachelor’s registered nurses this spring. One of the unique parts of the Ohio University Nursing School is its brand new simulation lab.

Patty Snider, the Simulation Lab Coordinator, says that the simulation lab is a large part of nursing students’ education.

“The main function of the simulation lab is to give students a place to come and learn about the patients and learn techniques and be able to practice on the mannequins prior to patient care,” Snider said. 

The lab features several innovative teaching tools for students to learn specific techniques, including “SimMan,” a state-of-the-art simulation mannequin that can cry, bleed, breathe and even talk to students.

Coordinators of the simulation lab can trigger SimMan to recreate different medical situations, from checking vitals to reenacting emergencies.

Teaching with Technology

OU’s simulation lab also features an IV simulator, medicine dispensing equipment similar to those used in hospitals, childbirth simulation equipment, and mannequins that reflect all ages. Students in the nursing school say their experience will help them to get a better job after graduation.

“They will be looking for nursing students that have their BSN because there are not that many people that have as much training as we have. So I would have an advantage over someone that is just an R.N. while I have my bachelors,” said Nikohl Kennedy, a junior in OU’s nursing school who is assigned to clinicals at the Holzer Hospital in Gallapolis.

Erin Tackett, another junior nursing student, said that the benefit of choosing nursing as a career is that she can get a job close to home. Tackett lives in Portsmouth, Ohio.

“I want to stay near home, and I know that they are looking for nurses, so this is a good path for me because I know I can do it near where I’m from,” she said.

Because of her desire to stay close to home, its safe to say that Tackett may serve as part of the solution to Southeast Ohio’s nursing shortage.