Nurses on the job hunt might be surprised to discover Pueblo pays better, on average, than Colorado Springs.
“The cost of living also is much more reasonable in Pueblo compared to the Springs,” said Karren Kowalski, president and CEO of the Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence.
Attracting nurses is more important than ever as medical professionals predict the nationwide shortage for the health care professionals is likely to worsen.
“Our projections is the state needs about 3,000 additional nurses per year,” Kowalski said. “That’s because of nurses retiring and nurses leaving certain areas because it’s very expensive to live in metropolitan areas in Colorado.”
The average salary for a registered nurse is $29.60 per hour in Pueblo, according to Indeed.com. Salary estimates were updated June 7 and are based on 44 salaries submitted to the website by nurses, users and data collected from past and present job listings in the last 36 months.
For Colorado Springs, the average hourly wage is $28.59. Those estimates were last updated June 8 and are based on 131 salaries given to Indeed by nurses, users and job advertisements in the last 36 months.
The website says both cities offer salaries between 9 and 12 percent below the national average for nurses. Data captured on Nurse.org, which referenced the Bureau of Labor Statistics, was similar to Indeed’s findings.
Offering attractive wages is important when trying to lure nurses from other hospitals and health care providers, said Jennifer Chrisman, the interim chief nursing officer for St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center.
“We do have to look at our pay rate versus hospitals in our area so we know we are competitive and stay competitive,” she said. “We typically, on a month-to-month basis, have three or four or more nurse openings, and right now, it’s more in the hospital.”
Just months after the hospital laid off about 300 employees, St. Mary-Corwin’s is looking to add 15 nurses to its stock of 135.
“We are always hiring nurses,” Chrisman said. “We have to always be on that wheel.”
Mike Cafasso, the hospital’s CEO, told the Pueblo Chieftain on June 4 that about 90 percent of the 275 employees affected by the layoffs had re-entered the workforce either through employment with Centura Health or at other companies and health care facilities.
“So as of now, only about 30 people don’t have jobs,” Cafasso said. “During the whole transition process, our top priority, in addition to implementing the plan, has been supporting our associates whose positions were affected by the change. And I think we’ve done that.”
Meanwhile, Chrisman believes Pueblo is becoming an increasingly competitive area for nurses in Colorado with three hospitals in town: St. Mary-Corwin, Parkview Medical Center and the Colorado Mental Health Institute.
“One of our other biggest challenges is our average age of nurses here is 46, and as the staff gets older, we have a lot of nurses retiring,” she said.
Kowalski also said it’s because Baby Boomers are aging out of the workforce.
“It’s that age group and then the 100,000-person net in-migration annually that Colorado is experiencing,” she said. “We have more people coming into the state than leaving it.”
The influx in population is requiring the amount of needed nurses and other health professionals to climb.
“We estimate that we need about 3,000 additional nurses each year and only graduate 2,000 here in the state,” Kowalski said.
Specialty nurses, such as for oncology and emergency departments, are in higher demand.
Kowalski again cited demographics as playing a role in the need for more experienced nurses.
“Generation Xers are the experienced nurses right now and there are fewer nurses to draw from in that group,” she said. “In addition to that, for lack of a better term, the women’s movement, which started when the Generation Xers were making decisions about careers — that’s when, for the first time, women had all kinds of options in addition to nursing and teaching to pursue as careers.”
Efforts to ease the nurse shortage include a new law passed last session, which allows the state’s community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees in nursing.
Pueblo Community College is among the first seven schools in the state approved to offer the four-year nursing degree programs, said Paula Kirchner, the college’s nursing program director.
“We have had a nursing program here since the late ’80s but what we will be starting in the fall of 2019 is a registered nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing completion option,” she said. “It’s for those who have graduated from an associate degree program and gone out and got their nursing license and are coming back to complete a four-year degree.”
Kirchner said allowing the additional colleges to have four-year programs can, in the longterm, help the nurse shortage.
The college also plans to roll out an online BSN program with a community practicum option, she said, adding applications will start to be accepted after the school’s curriculum is finalized.
“We have partnered pretty tight with PCC and CSU Pueblo because they both have accredited nursing programs,” Chrisman said. “I know that both of those schools also are looking to add on to further the education they are going to offer.”
St. Mary-Corwin will hire nurses with just associate’s degrees but Chrisman said the hospital encourages they get their BSN.
“If they can out of school with their BSN, they are a little ahead of the game,” she said.
However, Kowalski isn’t convinced the new law will make a difference.
“It absolutely does nothing for the nursing shortage,” she said. “What the community colleges are allowed to do is to start RN to BSN programs, and that doesn’t add to the number of nurses it only makes the nurses we have better educated.”
Kowalski believes transition to practice programs are working to address the experience nurse shortage..
“Those programs takes new grads and does intensive emersion into the specialty areas that are particularly hard hit right now,” she said. “Parkview also for example has done some very creative partnering with CSU Pueblo and that nursing program and Pueblo Community College in terms of they have paid some faculty salaries to allow their employers into the nursing programs.”
Kirchner said it’s the college’s associate’s degree nurse program that works with Parkview and the Colorado Mental Health Institute.
“They fund and provide a clinical faculty person in exchange for us taking some of their employees who are interested in getting in the nursing program and meet all the requirements,” she said.
A couple of years ago, Kowalski said Parkview had roughly 180 nurse vacancies.
“It’s not that way now because they have a creative chief nurse down there who has been very active in terms of helping the schools develop programs that keep those graduates in the Pueblo area,” she said. “They have become a role model for other areas in the state because of how they have approached the problem.”
Still, another issue that is likely going to affect the amount of nurses being produced is instructors at colleges aging out or choosing to work for a hospital instead of teaching, Kowalski said.
“The faculty shortage is just unbelievable,” she said. “And we don’t have any magic bullets to fix that problem either.”
About 10 to 15 percent of colleges’ nursing faculty in Colorado are age 65 or older, Kowalski said.
“The problem is pay,” she said. “People don’t choose faculty positions because it’s like a 40 percent cut in pay compared to what you can make at the hospitals. Community colleges for example don’t pay faculty that well.”
Although, Kirchner said the college’s nursing faculty, which teaches at three campuses across the state, only has one opening.
“I have an all master’s prepared faculty,” she said. “You have to be master’s prepared in order to teach in higher ed for nursing, and I even have four that are enrolled in their doctorate’s program.”
The Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence is in the process of compiling a report on college faculty shortages to help spread awareness about the issue. Those findings are expected to be released later this year, Kowalski said.
All in all, more nurses are needed to prevent burnout, which would then only intensify the shortage, Chrisman said.
“We see a lot of people coming into nursing thinking the pay is great, the schedule is great but when they get their feet on the ground, they find that it engages your heart, mind and body on a level they have never experienced before and can really lead to burnout quickly,” she said. “That’s part of the reasons we have to support our nursing staff so much because they do have an all-encompassing part in patient care.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify an indirect quote.