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Aging Pa. population driving demand for nurses

With the population of people 65 and older on the rise — 15.1 percent between 2000 and 2010 in the U.S., more than in any previous decade — the demand for health care professionals only expects to grow.

That fact doesn’t escape the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association and members of the Pennsylvania Action Coalition.

The commonwealth ranks fourth in the nation behind Florida, West Virginia and Maine with 15.4 percent of its population in that age bracket, according to the 2010 Census. In Central Pennsylvania, Lebanon County has the highest percentage of people 65 and older at 17 percent.

Sullivan County has the highest percentage in the state at 24.2 percent.

In partnership with the New Jersey-based Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the AARP Foundation, the coalition is participating in an effort to develop and implement long-term solutions to improving health care in Pennsylvania.

Part of that effort includes advocacy for higher education opportunities to increase the proportion of nurses with a bachelor’s degree to 80 percent by 2020.

About 41 percent of nurses in Pennsylvania have that degree, said Susan Hassmiller, senior adviser for nursing with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The national average is about 50 percent.

“You have a faculty shortage, which is preventing more nurses from getting into (the field),” she said.

The association figures about 3,000 eligible nursing students are turned away every year by education programs in Pennsylvania because of faculty shortages.

“One of the biggest reasons is because there are not enough nurses in Pennsylvania with the appropriate education,” Hassmiller said, stressing a need for more master’s and doctorate degrees.

More highly educated health care professionals will lead to safer and effective care, she said. A higher utilization of nurse practitioners and midwives also would help create a more cost-effective system, she said.

The coalition on Thursday will host a statewide meeting in Philadelphia on transforming health care in Pennsylvania. Members were in Harrisburg today to meet with state lawmakers. Its efforts are based on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine.


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