USF will house center that tracks nursing shortages in Florida

Revived state funding will try to solve a problem that is plaguing the nursing profession.

Florida officials on Wednesday celebrated the revival of a center that will anticipate and try to prevent nursing shortages around the state, an effort that now will be headquartered at the University of South Florida.

“I think it’s really important for the state of Florida to be able to monitor what’s going on,” said Rayna Letourneau, an assistant professor in the USF College of Nursing. She and others attended a ceremony where State Rep. Fentrice Driskell presented an oversized check to university leaders and the Florida Nurses Association as a symbol of renewed state funding for the center.

The Legislature established the Florida Center for Nursing in 2001, and tasked it with maintaining a database on nursing supply and demand in the state. It was housed at the University of Central Florida, and at the time predicted a shortfall of 52,500 nurses by 2020 in Florida.

Last year, the shortage continued to magnify and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that 1.1 million new nurses will be needed nationwide by 2022 to fill the gap. The shortage was expected to be felt in Florida by 2025.

State funding for the center was intermittent over the years, and was struck from the budget last year, prompting UCF to close it last July.

This year, the Legislature restored $800,000 in funding.

That’s when USF stepped up to host the center, said Willa Fuller, executive director of the Florida Nurses Association. It was a great fit, she said, and studying the nursing workforce happened to be an area of expertise for Letourneau.

Letourneau said the school’s expertise with statisticians and nursing researchers could help the state conduct better surveys and understand the factors leading to the crisis, to be able to solve it.

The timing couldn’t be better with the existing shortage being compounded by nurses leaving the field due to the pandemic, said Charles Lockwood, vice president of USF Health.

“We need, desperately, well-trained skilled nurses,” he said. “The state has a well-documented shortage today and that is expanding at a fairly frightening rate.”

College of Nursing dean Usha Menon, who introduced an initiative earlier this year to help meet workforce needs, said the state is also suffering from a shortage of nursing faculty.

While she said she’s excited about the proactive role the center will take, she worries for the field.

“The excitement is at this new collaboration,” Menon said. “But the sadness comes because we are a profession in crisis. What I’m excited about is that we’re looking at it sooner than 2025.”

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