By Christina Calloway
PNT senior writer
There are no full-time openings for nurses currently open at Roosevelt General Hospital but that can change in the matter of days, according to the Director of Nursing Services Mercedes Lopez.
Staffing levels fluctuate in cycles, according to Lopez, and it takes a toll on the nursing staff and the care they can give to patients. Particularly being in a rural area, Lopez said it’s hard to recruit nurses because of the location.
Gov. Susana Martinez announced several initiatives recently to recruit nurses to the state as well as encourage continued education for nursing professionals to address shortages, particularly in rural areas.
Martinez said the federal government considers all but one of the New Mexico’s 33 counties — Los Alamos — health professional shortage areas.
Lopez said specifically, the struggle lies in finding experienced nurses because that’s what RGH needs most. She said her department was understaffed a month ago and the hospital has hired multiple times this year.
It’s an issue across eastern New Mexico. Officials at Plains Regional Medical Center in Clovis also said it’s particularly hard to keep or find experienced nurses.
Joreta Creighton of Elida has been a nurse at RGH for 10 years and has experienced a floor with minimal nurses.
The mother of one says a shortage takes time away from her family and patients.
“It takes a toll because you have more patients than you probably should,” Creighton said. “You can’t give the patient care you’d like to.”
Creighton said she when staffing is minimal, she wishes she could have more one-on-one time with her patients.
“Lots of times it makes it to where you can’t chart like you normally would,” Creighton said.
She added that experienced nurses serve as a resource for other nurses to use when tackling a procedure or when they are in need of a support system.
The lack of experienced nurses presents a similar problem for Plains Regional Medical Center, where Terri Marney serves as chief nursing officer.
Though Marney said the hospital is fortunate to have a nursing program at Clovis Community College as a resource, the challenges in staffing stem from a lack of experienced nurses and nurses in specialty areas such as the emergency room.
Marney said the shortage of experienced nurses could be caused by nurses leaving once they gain experience on the floor.
“They’re ready to move onto a larger hospital or a hospital with specialty areas such as a trauma unit that rural areas typically do not have,” Marney said.
But both hospitals tote the family environment as a strength of working in a rural area.
“When you have nurses that are working on a unit, we really mentor them,” Marney said.
Lopez said when aspiring nurses have ties to the local community, they are likely to stay and work here.
“Everybody knows we’re like a family and people want to be a part of that,” Lopez said.
Both Lopez and Marney said Martinez has put forth good initiatives to recruit and retain nurses to rural areas, including the expansion of the loan-for-service program.
“Because they had that same program in place, I stayed in Clovis,” Marney said. “I think by increasing the slots, I think that will benefit any rural hospital. It recruits people who worry about loan money and gives them the opportunity to stay in place and establish their family and ties in that community which can sway them to stay.”