New York's nursing shortage (Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand)

As Congress focuses on comprehensive health care reform, one thing needs to be clear: We cannot fix health care if we do not address America's nursing shortage. If we're going to be able to provide access to quality, affordable health care to every American - we need to have the trained health care professionals inside hospitals to provide that care.

We have a serious nursing shortage in New York State and right here in New York City. Hospitals and other health care providers are experiencing vacancies today, and over the next 10 years, we're on a path for the problem to only get worse as the need for nurses grows.

The numbers are startling. My office recently released a report showing that in New York City, we'll need 59,694 more nurses over the next 10 years to provide quality care for our families.

Part of the problem is that our nurses population is getting older. When we studied the boroughs we found that in Brooklyn and Queens, almost 19 percent of the nurses are over the age of 55 and will likely enter retirement over the next decade. But we lack a sufficient number of incoming nurses to take their place upon retirement and there is already a 7.5 percent vacancy rate across the city.

New York is not alone. Communities in every corner of America struggle to fill nursing vacancies to provide care for everyone who needs it.

According to the Center for Health Workforce Studies, New York has substantially fewer registered nurses per capita than the national average. The root of the problem is that nursing institutions just do not have the faculty and physical space available to train the nurses we need.

When my office reached out to the College of Staten Island in Staten Island, they reported that their college admits about 125 out of 400 applicants. While many applicants are not qualified, many other applicants are turned away because there is a lack of classroom space and inadequate faculty supply.

In fact, Brooklyn's own Kings County Hospital has not graduated a class of nursing students since the late 1970s. This fall will mark the first class of nursing students the institution has had in decades.

Earlier this month, I unveiled my plan to make sure we have the amount of trained nurses we need to be able to provide quality care to children and families for the long term.

First, we'll increase nursing faculty by offering 100 percent loan repayment for nurses who choose a faculty role and train the next generation of nurses.

Second, we'll provide grants to nursing institutions so they can accept more qualified students -- and we'll make sure these institutions have the space to train them.

Third, we'll incentivise nurse practitioners and other providers to work in undeserved areas. President Obama's economic recovery plan included $300 million for the National Health Service Corps to recruit more nurses. I'll continue the charge in the Senate and work for more investments, and encourage more nurses to work in areas that need new nurses the most.

And as the last step in my plan, we'll make smart, long term investments to develop a robust nursing workforce to make sure we're on a sturdy path to our health care future.

Cross-posted from The Huffington Post

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