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Report shows state's health care vacancy rate higher than nation's

LAWRENCEVILLE - The job vacancy rate for nurses, physical therapists and other key health care professionals in Georgia is higher than the national average, according to a new study.

The analysis of the state's health care work force was released Tuesday by the Georgia Hospital Association.

The report, "Understanding Georgia's Health Care Work Force Shortage," found the vacancy rate for registered nurses in Georgia hospitals is 8.7 percent, or equal to about 1,878 vacant positions. The national rate is 6 percent.

Other key findings in the report: One of every four nurses and pharmacists in Georgia's hospital work force is over 50 years old. One of every three medical laboratory technologists is also over 50; physical therapists, occupational therapists and nuclear medicine technologists have the highest vacancy rates; and critical care and emergency departments have the highest nursing vacancy rates.

"Historically, health care work force shortages have occurred in cycles that have come and gone all within a three- to five-year period," Georgia Hospital Association President Joseph Parker said.

"What is troublesome about this shortage is that, according to this report, there appears to be no end in sight as our progress continues to be impeded by a lack of financial and educational resources."

Georgia hospitals, including Emory Eastside Medical Center in Snellville and the county's largest hospital, Gwinnett Medical Center in Lawrenceville, have created job recruitment programs with high schools and colleges to battle the personnel shortage.

But Scott Lowe, Emory Eastside human resources director, said the hospital expects to lose nearly 18 percent of its registered nurses to retirement over the next decade.

Gwinnett Health System Inc., the nonprofit that runs Gwinnett Medical Center, has a nearly 8.5 percent vacancy rate for nurses.

Susan Hunter, the nonprofit's vice president and chief nurse executive, said job recruitment programs have reduced vacancy from about 11 percent two years ago. But, Hunter worries the improvement is in jeopardy.

One reason for the concern is a backlog of students hoping to become health care workers. Some 8,000 students remain on waiting lists for health technology courses at the Georgia Department of Technical and Adult Education technical colleges, according to the Hospital Association.

The waiting list stems from a shortage of faculty, lack of adequate classroom space and the need for more clinical sites including hospitals where students can train, Hunter said.