Last October, despite the lack of funding from the government, the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. increased the salaries of its nurses to above-market rates, making it competitive with Guam and the U.S. mainland.
According to CHCC CEO Esther Muña, that has had the salutary effect of motivating applications in the U.S. mainland.
“We are now getting applications from U.S. citizens for nurse and nursing assistant positions. It became an attractive position for us and I think that was the best decision we have made. When you increase the salary, this is also a good way to recruit,” she said.
Despite their problem with funding, the increase was inevitable, Muña said. “At the end of the day, when we don’t have our nurses, we can’t provide our services. We certainly have our doctors but they can’t do the work of nurses,” she said.
“The CNMI needs a strong healthcare system and how do you do that if your workforce is weak? We are improving services and trying to meet the needs of the community,” Muña added.
With the recent announcement of U.S. Citizenship Immigration Services to reduce 3,000 CW-1 slots in fiscal year 2018, coupled with a nursing shortage in the U.S. mainland and around the world, Muña is aware of the shortage of nurses at the national level because Guam and the U.S. keep recruiting from CHCC’s staff.
According to Nancy O’Malley, a registered nurse from Denver, the nursing shortage in the mainland is caused by various factors.
“Most hospitals prefer registered nurses from a four- to five-year baccalaureate nursing programs that are more expensive than the three-year hospital-based programs that are more technically-based. There is also a critical shortage of nurse educators for BSN schools of nursing,” she said.
“The low pay scale is also a big disincentive. The pay scale for the job requirements and responsibilities and the retirement benefits also discourage highly qualified nurses from staying at the bedside. Some find other higher pay, better benefits in healthcare-related fields such as medical and pharmaceutical manufacturer’s representatives,” O’Malley added.
Looking at the bigger view of what’s happening with the rest of the world plays into how the CNMI can address its nursing shortage, Muña said.
“CHCC is addressing the shortage not only here but around the world and coming up with a salary structure was the best decision.”
“We also encourage the students to come to us if they want to pursue a career in the medical field. There are a lot of careers available, not only doctors and nurses, but also careers in physical therapy, respiratory therapy, careers in the lab like radiology technician. Even if you just want to start, see me,” she added.
For current nursing students, CHCC can help prepare them get into the system.
“We can provide payment for licenses, pay for their tests and even offer a study room in the hospital. All of these efforts are part of our recruit and retention program because the two are a must in the health care system,” Muña said.
The bigger question, though, is, will they stay?