URI professor awarded $309,000 federal grant to bolster nursing’s role in economic development

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KINGSTON, R.I. – May 6, 2009 – When economic development discussions take place in Rhode Island, Lynne Dunphy wants nurses at the table.

The U.S. Department of Commerce agrees with Dunphy, having awarded the University of Rhode Island nursing professor a $309,000, three-year grant to strengthen workforce and faculty development efforts. Lifespan, the health care system that includes Rhode Island, The Miriam, Bradley, and Newport hospitals, provided the required private sector match, with a three-year, $120,000 commitment through the Lifespan Learning Institute. URI has designated faculty time to the project, and the Southern Area Health Education Consortium has provided $10,000.

“The federal government and Lifespan recognize that nursing jobs are a key part of Rhode Island’s economic engine,” Dunphy said. “The profession provides high-wage jobs that improve Rhode Island’s tax base. But most importantly, a robust nursing workforce means improved patient care that translates into shorter hospital stays, improved recovery outcomes and a healthier state overall.

“Many individuals want to become nurses, but we can’t accommodate them because we don’t have the faculty capacity to enroll them at the University, Rhode Island College and Community College of Rhode Island,” said Dunphy.

Joining Dunphy on the project are Jane Williams, dean of RIC’s School of Nursing, Jeanette Matrone, program manager of CCRI’s U.S. Department of Labor Health Care Futures grant, and Matthew Bodah, URI associate professor of labor and industrial relations. Although this award is structured as a consortium of the state’s three nursing programs with URI as the lead agency, activities will also include the nursing programs at Salve Regina University and St. Joseph’s Hospital.

Since her appointment as the first Routhier Chair of Practice in the URI College of Nursing, Dunphy has been focusing on nursing workforce issues, nursing faculty shortages and planning for a future that is going to require large numbers of nurses by 2015.

Bodah said the 2004 report of the Rhode Island SHAPE Foundation, Help Wanted: the Growing Crisis in Rhode Island’s Nursing Workforce, project that by 2020, Rhode Island will be short 4,860 to 9,000 full-time nurses. Bodah also said that there were about 95 tenured and tenure track faculty, 56 lecturers and 93 per course instructors across all of Rhode Island’s nursing programs. He said those numbers need to be increased 33 to 50 percent to meet projected increases in enrollment levels.

Even though nursing students about to graduate from the state’s University and colleges are finding it hard to find jobs in Rhode Island, nursing and political leaders believe that this is a short-term trend fueled by the troubled economy. Dunphy said older nurses are not retiring because of economic uncertainty and patients may be delaying treatments because they don’t have jobs or health care coverage. They added that some are putting off elective surgeries because they worry that if they take a long period off to recover, their jobs may be eliminated. Officials said that once the economy starts rebounding, the need for additional nurses would become profound.

Dunphy said the grant would fund a proposed Rhode Island Center for Nursing Excellence, which must be approved by officials from the University and the Rhode Island Office of Higher Education.

The three central functions of the center would be: conducting research on various workforce and faculty development models, providing technical assistance to those efforts and disseminating results.

“We are looking at new models to bolster our faculty ranks with such things as joint appointments between the nursing programs and the hospitals,” Dunphy said. “We already ran a faculty development program with Lifespan Learning Institute in fall of 2008. Such a model might involve practicing nurses employed by Lifespan who would be given time to teach.”

As a complement to the work, Bodah is creating an analysis of supply and demand that will show how many nursing faculty the state will need by 2015 and 2020 to maintain a robust and diverse nursing workforce to meet the health care needs of Rhode Islanders.

“We’re looking at new ways of teaching and learning in partnership with our health care organizations,” Dunphy said. “In our first year, we are going to survey all schools to see what partnerships already exist. Additionally, all schools of nursing and their practice partners are conducting assessments of their curriculums by doing a GAP analysis.” This type of analysis is designed to better align the competencies of the graduate nurse with the knowledge and skills needed in today’s rapidly changing health care environment.

Dunphy said such work could lead to better alignment between nursing education and practice.