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Friday, February 4th, 2005 -- 2:11 PM

A report released earlier this week by the Wisconsin Hospital Association sounds yet another alarm that a nursing shortage crisis may be looming ? and that shortage is beginning to hit home.

Memorial Medical Center Administrator Glenn Grady says Neillsville?s healthcare provider could easily hire around 4 or 5 more nurses right now; but the problem will likely worsen.

"Right now, the average age of nurses seems to be in their mid-40's," Grady laments, "What we're looking at in the next ten years is an awful lot of people retiring."

Grady says there aren't enough new nurses to replace the retiring group.

Currently, Memorial Med employs 39 RNs, 15 LPNs and around 85 CNAs between the hospital, nursing home and their home health program.

The shortage is the result of a ?perfect storm? of factors: an aging population is demanding more medical attention; there are more nurses retiring; and there are strict requirements as to who can teach nursing classes.

"It's difficult for the schools to put enough people out," Grady explains, "It's not for lack of trying. Their enrollments are full, but they can't take any more. The instructors are just not around."

The bottom-line is a projected increase in the cost of healthcare and more frazzled nurses.

"The nurses are working more hours than they would like. In some cases, more hours than they feel they can function at 100% of their capacity."

Grady says the Wisconsin Hospital Association is working with other groups to look for answers. The short term answer appears to add more nursing programs to the technical college system.

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