Nursing the Workforce Back to Health

Santa Barbara Welcomes a New Advanced Degree Nursing Program

The baby boomer generation is growing older, people on the whole are living longer, and changing demographics bring changing demands.

Like the rest of the nation, Santa Barbara will need more nurses to take care of the largest generation in history. And on Friday, one might say that an effort was made to allay the critical nursing shortage.

On Friday, July 9, standing on the steps of Cottage Hospital, officials from Cottage Health System and California State University Channel Islands (CSUCI) announced a partnership to bring CSUCI’s baccalaureate nursing program to the Santa Barbara area.

The program will afford its students a Bachelors of Science Nursing (BSN) degree and would allow for up to 22 students a year. This comes as a welcome surprise for those tired of commuting to Camarillo. Before Friday’s announcement, the nearest option for pursuing an advanced nursing degree was Ventura or Bakersfield (SBCC offers only an Associate Degree). And as the press release reports, nurses educated locally are more likely to take jobs at Cottage.

A six-person faculty — three full-time professors and three part-time — will oversee an evidence-based curriculum. Classes and simulation labs will be held in a renovated industrial building across from Goleta Valley Hospital, and clinical work will be conducted at Cottage, reportes Karen Jensen, Chair of the Nursing Program.

Generally, BSN programs take four years to complete. CSUCI’s program will take about two-and-a-half. The press release (issued by Cottage) notes that to be eligible for admission, students must have completed General Education courses. CSUCI’s Nursing Web Site is more specific: “This RN to BSN track is designed for the practicing nurse who has completed a nursing program in a community college and is seeking a Bachelor of Science Nursing,” adding that applicants should have or be eligible for a California nursing license.

This program is a step in the right direction; unfortunately it’s no miracle fix. National statistics do not augur smooth sailing for the aging: the number of Americans age 55 and older is expected to increase from 60 million (21 percent of the population) to 107 million (31 percent) by 2030, according to the National Council on Aging in Washington, D.C. The Department of Labor portends that to replace the outgoing supply and meet incoming demand, the nation will need 600,000 new nurses within the next 10 years.

Even without the presage for boomers, nurse-to-patient ratios are hard pressed as it is. In 2004, California notably instituted a one-to-five ratio for surgery patients (as well as a one-to-two ratio in intensive care). The smaller the ratio (the bigger the nurse workforce), the better a nurse can respond when a patient has an emergency—a precipitous drop in oxygen saturation or a dangerously accelerating heart rate, for example.

This was why, in 2005, Schwarzenegger signed the California Nurse Education Initiative into legislation, a plan to provide $90 million over five years. The initiative helped to expand the resources of nurse education and added more nurses to the workforce.

“That state money is probably dissolved,” remarked Jensen. “Much of this increase we have seen in the recent [nursing] population will go away without what we call soft money. That is why it’s important for us to have public-private collaborative.”

The press release notes that this program was created without financial support from the State of California. Cottage Health System is footing the bill: a $6 million commitment over the next 10 years. The first class is slated to start in spring 2012, pending program approval from several state and national boards.

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