The Missouri Hospital Association has reported the highest rate of staff nurse vacancies they have had on record in the 16 years they have released their annual workforce report, according to Senior Vice President of Patient Care Services and Chief Nursing Officer, Keri Brookshire-Heavin.

Brookshire-Heavin shared the information during her presentation on nursing workforce challenges at the Phelps County Regional Medical Center Board of Trustees Meeting on Wednesday.

Vacancy and turnover rates for staff nurses hit a peak in 2017, and Brookshire-Heavin stated Missouri has a staff nurse vacancy rate of 15.9 percent, and a staff nurse turnover rate of 16 percent, while at PCRMC the third and fourth quarters of 2017 showed a staff nurse vacancy rate of 10.5 percent along with an 8.1 percent turnover rate of nurses.

“This is a 6.7 increase from last year, which is to me a staggering number and significant,” said Brookshire-Heavin. “Staff nurses make up the largest number of hospital employees in Missouri, so you can tell that has a big impact.”

The shortage of nursing positions is a complex issue that parallels a multi-generational workforce, where baby boomers and millennials are managed differently and have a different set of needs, while baby boomers are retiring from the workforce, and nursing schools are not having adequate program space for students resulting in limited enrollment.

“Nursing schools across the U.S. are not growing fast enough to meet the demand, and 75 percent of the full-time nursing faculty is 50 or older, which shows you in the not so far future you are going to see that group retiring,” explained Chief Nursing Officer, Brookshire-Heavin.

Several initiatives are being put forward to help future vacancy and turnover rates for the nursing staff of PCRMC, that involve numerous novel approaches to retain nurses. Those initiatives include tuition reimbursement and partnering with many area nursing schools to help with the demand of enrollment.

“We want to try to keep nurses in the workforce, so working with their schedule, giving them alternative shifts that maybe aren’t a 12 hour shift -- trying to work with everyone in those positions,” said Brookshire-Heavin, adding “working around school schedules and trying to facilitate opportunities for them to stay here working and keep going to school.”