According to a Business Week report, there are more than 100,000 open nursing positions in the United States with more nurses likely needed should the Obama Administration successfully reform health care this summer, which would insure millions of uninsured Americans. Many health care facilities want to import foreign nurses, but President Obama and the nurses' unions want to improve conditions for American nurses instead.
In May, Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) (H.R.2536) introduced a bill that would issue 20,000 more visas to nurses from foreign countries to help alleviate the current shortage. It's a bill that has the backing of many health care facilities who claim they face several obstacles when trying to lure nurses to their open positions. Most notably, the shortage of actual nurses in the field.
But the unions suggest that the nursing shortage can be fixed in a number of ways, including one supported by Pres. Obama. Nursing schools have a shortage of teachers, leading to many qualified applicants getting turned away. Obama said he would like to change that before turning to foreign nurses.
"The notion that we would have to import nurses makes absolutely no sense," Obama said at a health care summit in March. "There are a lot of people [in the U.S.] who would love to be in that helping profession, and yet we just aren't providing the resources to get them trained—that's something we've got to fix."
About $100 million of the economic stimulus bill was set aside for promoting nursing and increasing capacity at U.S. schools. Obama also points to the high unemployment rate in the United States as another reason to solve the nursing shortage with American workers.
The nursing labor unions also oppose an increase in foreign nurses because it would undermine the country's own nurses while taking qualified nurses away from other countries. The nurses' unions say importing foreign nurses can lower incentives for health care facilities to improve the current nursing conditions, which has led to 500,000 trained nurses not working in the field.
"If unemployment is spiking, why do we need to bring in nurses from another country?" said Ann Converso, president of United American Nurses. "We believe thousands and thousands of RNs would rejoin the profession if conditions improved. We have to again allow nurses to do what they do best: care for human beings."
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