A.O. Fox Memorial Hospital in Oneonta had nine job listings for registered nurses on its website Thursday. The Bassett Healthcare website had twice as many RN positions listed.

The ads offer jobs but don't reflect that local hospitals have an educational pipeline to train new nurses and advance its employees' careers.

Such a pipeline is key to quelling the area's nursing shortage, said Jeanne-Marie Havener, Hartwick College nursing department chairwoman, who is developing a nurse training program.

The New York State Health Foundation, a private organization, recently approved an $83,000 grant for Hartwick's ``Strengthen the Rural Nursing Workforce'' program.

Havener, who proposed the program, said the 18-month course will be for local adults with bachelor's degrees who wish to become nurses.

``Nursing is a very, very exciting career,'' Havener said Wednesday.

However, nurses tend to seek jobs in urban areas where salaries are higher and professional and social opportunities abound, she said.

A Center for Health Workforce Studies study, prepared by the School of Public Health at the State University at Albany, said that between 2005 and 2020, the number of registered nurses in Delaware, Otsego and Schoharie counties could drop from 1,257 to 734, or 42 percent.

The area's greatest challenge is to stem projected losses from nurses leaving, plus an increase in attrition from retirements, disability and death, the recently released study said. The median age of nurses in this area is 45, it said.

Robbin Scobie, Fox vice president of nursing, said the organization has a RN shortage. However, this year's vacancy rate was 4.9 percent as of Nov. 30, down from 7.4 percent in 2007.

Of 172 nurses employed in the Fox organization, 130 work at the hospital, she said.

Several nurses have worked at Fox for 30 or more years, with an average of 12 years, she said, but with the aging work force, leave requests and other factors, the employment picture changes daily.

``We've been able to cope with it through our programs,'' Scobie said. ``Compared to many institutions, we're much better off.''

The educational programs are geared to improving patient care and recruiting and retaining nurses, Scobie said.

At Fox, 38 people are enrolled in nursing programs at some level, she said, and the Susan Remillard Scholarship program and Fox Foundation provide support.

Bassett Healthcare employs 352 registered nurses and has a vacancy rate of 5 percent, said Connie Jastremski, vice president of nursing and patient services. The nursing vacancy rate nationwide is 8.5 percent, she said, and the Healthcare Association of New York State in May reported the state rate was 8.8 percent.

Local educational programs are available

About 13 licensed practical nurses will complete a partnership program at the State University College of Technology at Delhi in May and become the more-highly trained registered nurses at Bassett, she said.

Jastremski said that because of such efforts to ``grow our own,'' there aren't RN vacancies, except to find or train operating room nurses.

Bassett also has partnerships with Hartwick and the SUNY Institute of Technology, is assigning nurses to mentoring roles and is offering jobs in patient care with limited hours for nurses seeking changes.

Bassett doesn't have a shortage, Jastremski said, but the overall picture is worrisome because of declines in nursing school enrollment and the aging work force.

Havener said the local shortage of nurses and faculty had to be met by developing a pipeline of students and professionals.

In addition, the ``Rural Nursing Workforce'' project will ``give back'' to local health-care organizations that provide clinical opportunities for Hartwick students, she said.

Hartwick College, a four-year private liberal arts college, has an undergraduate nursing program as well as an accelerated summer course, Havener said.

In 2007, enrollment was 187, according to a media release.

Students enrolling in the ``Rural Nursing Workforce'' program face prerequisites, including a required science background, Havener said, and the first class will have 10 students. Students may continue working part time or full time, she said.

Havener said the college is waiting to hear about other grant applications and is seeking program approval from the state Education Department. The NYS Health Foundation grant will pay for curriculum development and other start-up costs, Havener said, and the program will be supported by tuition.

Also this week, the New York State Nursing Association warned that the governor's proposed budget threatens state education funding for nursing and consequently will worsen the shortage.

The demand for registered nurses across New York will exceed supply by at least 37,000 by 2015, a release said, and the state would need to see 4,000 more nurses graduate annually to eliminate the shortfall.

"The nursing shortage is a critical issue,'' Hartwick President Margaret L. Drugovich said. ``Hartwick-educated student nurses stand to make a significant positive impact."

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