1. Opinion

PolitiFact Florida: Adam Putnam right. We need more nurses in Florida

In the Florida governor's race, both Republicans and Democrats have highlighted an issue facing the Sunshine State: a shortage of nurses.

For months now, Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has highlighted a surprising factoid about Florida's nursing workforce, often while emphasizing the importance of trade education and career training outside of a four-year bachelor's degree.

"The No. 1 job vacancy in Florida every month for seven years has been nursing," Putnam said Oct. 31 during a campaign stop at Whitey's Fish Camp in Fleming Island.

Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum (and Putnam's possible opponent) has also mentioned a nursing shortage in the state, so we wanted to take a look at it.

We found that Putnam's claim is backed up by state data, and experts in Florida agreed that the shortage of nurses has been a problem since the 1990s.

Data from the Department of Economic Opportunity shows that registered nurses have consistently topped the lists of monthly online job advertisements and annual job openings.

Department spokeswoman Karen Smith told PolitiFact Florida the top online job advertisement in Florida has been registered nurses every month for the past seven years. We asked for a sample of that data and got a year's worth of monthly reports for Help Wanted OnLine, a tool used by the Department to measure real-time labor demand.

These reports are posted on the DEO's site and updated monthly.

The most recent month of data (October 2017) shows there were 13,619 online ads placed for registered nurses. The second-most popular ads sought retail salespersons in 7,207 postings, followed by "first-line supervisors" for retail sales workers with 6,467 ads.

Putnam has also talked about the need for truck drivers, which place fourth in online job ads.

In addition, Florida's Statewide Demand Occupations List shows that registered nurses have consistently ranked as the most in-demand occupation since at least 2011.

Mary Lou Brunell is the executive director of the Florida Center for Nursing, which was set up in 2001 by the Florida Legislature to address the nursing shortages in the state.

In recent years, she said, the problem has been exacerbated by a lack of students studying to become nurses, a shortage of faculty teaching future students, and an aging workforce and state population.

"You put all those pieces together, and it's just not getting better," said Dianne Morrison-Beedy, the former dean at the University of South Florida College of Nursing.

The nursing workforce is also aging. According to a 2017 report from the Florida Center for Nursing, 44 percent of registered nurses are over the age of 50 and are expected to retire in the next 5 to 10 years.

The economic turnaround in the late 2000s also decreased the number of nurses in the workforce. When the economy plummeted in 2008, many people trained in nursing but not working returned to their job or delayed retirement. As the economy improved, there were once again more vacancies because those nurses returned home or retired.

Brunell said she's also concerned about the need for licensed practical nurses, which work under the guidance of registered nurses or physicians. She said there's been an increase in home care facilities, which is why she predicts more licensed practical nurses (LPNs) will be needed in the future.

Morrison-Beedy said that in order to fix the problem, the focus has to be on how to develop faculty and support for people who want to become nurses.

In Florida, becoming a registered nurse requires either a two-year associate degree or a bachelor's of science degree in nursing.

"We need more students in the baccalaureate program, we need to provide financial support for students to go to school, and in order to do that we have to have enough faculty to teach those students," she said. "We want the best educated and the best kind of nurses because that's where we'll see better outcomes."

We rate this claim True.

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