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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, April 23, 2007

Class at Maui hospital helps prepare returning nurses

By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Neighbor Island Editor

Nurses Angela Camara, left, and Rose Kent practice CPR on a mannequin during a refresher course at Maui Memorial Medical Center.

CHRISTIE WILSON | The Honolulu Advertiser

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WAILUKU, Maui The hard-driving beat of "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees paced the nurses as they repeatedly pushed down on the chest of a mannequin named Dave in an exam room at Maui Memorial Medical Center.

"Faster," said clinical educator Kim Finney, urging them to keep time with the music while performing CPR.

The resuscitation techniques last used by some in the group have gone the way of disco, and a 40-hour class last week sponsored by the Wailuku hospital aimed to get them back in step with the latest medical therapies and methods.

Like hospitals across the nation, Maui Memorial is dealing with a nurse shortage, and the new program was designed to prepare nurses who had left the profession to return.

A January 2007 study by the Center for Nursing estimated that one in 10 nursing positions was unfilled last year in Hawai'i, and that the gap would widen to one in four by 2020, or nearly 2,700 vacancies. Officials say there are many reasons for the shortage, including inadequate pay and working conditions. In Hawai'i there are additional issues, such as lack of faculty and limited training positions in hospitals, which are preventing nursing schools from increasing enrollment, said Aggie Pigao Cadiz, head of the Hawai'i Nurses' Association.

At Maui Memorial, there are approximately 42 vacancies among a staff of 430 nurses. That's not too bad, but nurse recruiter Katherine Bauer said keeping them there and attracting new hires requires constant effort and regular recruiting trips to the Mainland.

Six registered nurses and one licensed practical nurse enrolled in the hospital's refresher course, which included training in wound care, respiratory and vascular therapies, infection control, pain management, dialysis patient care, time management and documentation.

Marianne Vasquez, the hospital's clinical education coordinator, said "the TLC part of nursing stays the same," but equipment, medications and therapies change every couple of years, if not sooner. "You have to keep up on it," she said.

Carol Best of Wailuku has been a registered nurse for more than 40 years, but hasn't worked in that capacity at a hospital since 1989. More recently she had been employed as a case manager and a legal nurse consultant advising attorneys on personal injury and medical malpractice cases.

"It's wonderful that they have this class. Some nurses might be fearful of coming back without some help," she said.

Best, 63, said she would like to work a couple days a week in an emergency room or intensive care unit to enhance her credibility in court cases, but also because she misses the interaction with other medical professionals.

"I don't need to do this work for the money," she said. "I miss the patient team, the gang."

Valerie Gregory, 41, of Waiehu, worked in hospitals and clinics on Maui, O'ahu and Kaua'i before taking a job as a home-care nurse for a private agency. Gregory said she didn't sign up for the class in anticipation of changing jobs, but to stay sharp. "I've been out of hospital for so long I feel like I need to brush up on my skills," she said.

Pigao Cadiz said she is not aware of any similar programs in Hawai'i, and would like to see something offered on O'ahu. But she also said there is probably only a small number of inactive nurses willing to return to work because they would still be facing some of the issues that caused them to leave in the first place, and because it might be hard to convince employers of their competency after a long absence.

"There aren't that many inactive nurses who want to get back into the profession, and for those who do, they have to scramble to look for a program that would provide them with that," she said.

Maui Memorial officials said that even if the hospital doesn't end up hiring any of the participants in the refresher class, there is a demand for nurses with varying levels of skills in long-term-care facilities and other settings.

Another refresher course is planned for next year.

Reach Christie Wilson at cwilson@honoluluadvertiser.com.

Correction: Maui Memorial Medical Center has 42 nurse vacancies. A previous version of this story gave the wrong number.