Texas im­ports nurses, but perry is not to blame

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO &STATE - By meghan Ash­ford-Grooms

What do nurses and welders have in com­mon? Ac­cord­ing to Bill White, the Demo­cratic gu­ber­na­to­rial nom­i­nee, those are two jobs in the state that for­eign work­ers fill.

Dur­ing his June 25 speech to del­e­gates at the Texas Demo­cratic Party con­ven­tion in Cor­pus Christi, White said the val­ues of his Repub­li­can op­po­nent, who has been gover­nor for more than 10 years, are out of step with Tex­ans’, say­ing: “Rick Perry’s Texas is dif­fer­ent than our Texas. ... In Rick Perry’s Texas, we im­port nurses and welders from other coun­tries.”

We’ll leave welders for an­other day. In this ar­ti­cle, we’re check­ing the nurses’ el­e­ment.

Katy Ba­con, White’s spokes­woman, said the hir­ing of for­eign nurses shows the state has failed to ed­u­cate enough Tex­ans for the jobs. That’s a Perry is­sue “since he’s the leader of state govern­ment, and the pri­mary func­tion of state govern­ment is ed­u­ca­tion,” Ba­con said.

“The buck stops at his desk.”

Ba­con backed White’s state­ment about Texas im­port­ing nurses by point­ing to the Na­tional Sam­ple Sur­vey of Reg­is­tered Nurses, taken ev­ery few years by the fed­eral Health Re­sources and Ser­vices Ad­min­is­tra­tion. The lat­est study, com­pleted in 2004, had Texas among six states em­ploy­ing the bulk of the nation’s for­eigne­d­u­cated reg­is­tered nurses. The leader was Cal­i­for­nia (28.6 per­cent), fol­lowed by Florida (10.7 per­cent), New York (10.4 per­cent), Texas (7.5 per­cent), New Jersey (6.9 per­cent) and Illi­nois (5.6 per­cent).

The sur­vey found that the ma­jor­ity of the nation’s for­eign-ed­u­cated nurses went to school in the Philip­pines, Canada or the United King­dom.

Based on a sam­ple of nurses — not a head count — the re­port es­ti­mated that in 2004, Texas had 6,738 reg­is­tered nurses who had at­tended for­eign nurs­ing schools.

Count­ing li­censed nurses, the Texas Board of Nurs­ing put the num­ber sig­nif­i­cantly higher: It said 20,048 in­ter­na­tion­ally ed­u­cated reg­is­tered nurses were el­i­gi­ble to work in Texas in 2004. The num­ber in­creased more or less steadily from 18,358 in 2000 to 24,483 in 2009, when they ac­counted for 11 per­cent of the state’s 219,458 reg­is­tered el­i­gi­ble nurses. News re­ports from the early 2000s con­firmed that Texas hos­pi­tals were re­cruit­ing nurses from abroad to help fill their staffs.

That’s not new. Clair Jor­dan, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Texas Nurses As­so­ci­a­tion, said for­eign-trained nurses were even more preva­lent decades ago. From the 1960s through the 1980s, she said, as many as 30,000 for­eign-trained nurses may have been hired to work in Texas. Jor­dan said very few Amer­i­cans go over­seas for train­ing.

In the past few years, Jor­dan said, the nurs­ing pinch has been eased some­what by the eco­nomic down­turn (which re­duced job turnover as some nurses put off re­tire­ment or worked more hours) and an in­crease in grad­u­ates from the state’s nurs­ing schools. Fed­eral visa re­stric­tions have also ham­pered for­eign re­cruit­ment, said Amanda En­gler, a spokes­woman for the Texas Hos­pi­tal As­so­ci­a­tion.

What’s been state govern­ment’s role in all this?

In 1999, the year be­fore Perry be­came gover­nor, the Texas Nurses As­so­ci­a­tion joined with other or­ga­ni­za­tions to ad­dress the nurs­ing short­age, ac­cord­ing to a re­port writ­ten in 2008 and up­dated this year by the Texas Team — 10 state, in­dus­try, higher ed­u­ca­tion and leg­isla­tive lead­ers se­lected by the gover­nor’s of­fice. Among the con­cerns raised by the coali­tion: Too many qual­i­fied ap­pli­cants were be­ing turned away from the state’s nurs­ing pro­grams, mainly be­cause the schools lacked the re­sources to train them. Grad­u­at­ing more nurses was one of the group’s leg­isla­tive goals.

Since 2001, the Leg­is­la­ture has ap­pro­pri­ated more than $100 mil­lion to tackle the nurs­ing short­age, ac­cord­ing to the nurses as­so­ci­a­tion. En­roll­ment in reg­is­tered nurs­ing pro­grams in­creased 62 per­cent from 2001 to 2009 and grad­u­ates in­creased 81 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to the Texas Cen­ter for Nurs­ing Work­force Stud­ies and the Texas Board of Nurs­ing.

What has Perry done? Cather­ine Frazier, a spokes­woman for the gover­nor’s cam­paign, said Perry “has led the charge to im­prove the nurs­ing short­age and nurs­ing ed­u­ca­tion in Texas.” We found five ex­am­ples, from 2002 to 2010, of Perry cit­ing the short­age in speeches and en­dors­ing ef­forts to help ex­pand the ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem.

Un­der “Nurs­ing Ed­u­ca­tion Ef­forts” on his of­fice’s web­site, Perry touts sev­eral leg­isla­tive ac­tions, start­ing with the Pro­fes­sional Nurs­ing Short­age Re­duc­tion Pro­gram, which he signed into law in 2001. The leg­is­la­tion, au­thored by then-Sen. Mike Mon­crief, DFort Worth, es­tab­lished grant pro­grams for nurs­ing schools to in­crease stu­dent en­roll­ment and re­tain fac­ulty mem­bers.

El­iz­a­beth Sjoberg, as­so­ci­ate gen­eral coun­sel for the Texas Hos­pi­tal As­so­ci­a­tion, told us Perry “has sup­ported ini­tia­tives to ad­dress the nurs­ing short­age for a num­ber of years.” Sjoberg noted that Perry’s wife, Anita, is a for­mer nurse.

Up­shot: White is cor­rect that Texas im­ports nurses from abroad. But im­ply­ing that Perry is to blame for that dis­re­gards the gover­nor’s ef­forts to ad­dress a short­age that ex­isted be­fore he be­came gover­nor and has per­sisted de­spite ef­forts by the state to pro­duce more Texas-trained nurses.

We rate White’s state­ment as Half True.

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