Hospitals Across Iowa Facing Nursing Shortages

IOWA  --  Hospitals across the state are scrambling to fill nursing positions, with hundreds of openings in the Des Moines area alone.

As Channel 13's Ben Oldach reports, this means nurses are working a lot of overtime to cover shifts and provide care.

"Just seeing what nurses do, it's miraculous," said Deb Moyer, Chief Nurse Executive at Unity Point Health in Des Moines.

What is not miraculous is just how few of them there are in the state.

Unity Point in Des Moines currently has around 170 nursing positions open, St. Luke's Hospital in Cedar Rapids has 71, Broadlawns has 15 vacancies, and Boone County Hospital has eight. However, there is a silver lining.

"The pendulum is swinging back up where people are entering nursing as a field, as a profession, which I'm very happy about," said Moyer. "And I've been around in nursing a long time, so I've seen the pendulum swing back and forth."

That being said, the silver lining could fade quickly, as 21% of Iowa's aging nurses are eligible to retire. This is on top of the fact that Iowa healthcare has another problem: on average, registered nurses in Iowa make the least amount of money of nurses across the entire United States, only beating out the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

Those in the nursing field say they have to find leverage in other ways to compete.

"I think the quality of life here is what sells the Midwest, Iowa in particular," said Mercy College Dean of Nursing Nancy Kertz. "And I think many choose to stay here because of that."

"We also offer them opportunities for clinical advancement, and that's actually compensated and that really keeps people engaged in their profession," said Moyer.

Nurses say they need that profession to grow grow quickly, because it appears the shortage will not be over any time soon.

"By 2022 there will be a projected number nationally, job openings of approximately one million," said Kertz.

Mercy College officials say a smaller number of teachers enrolling in nursing programs is making the problem even worse.