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Is there a nurse in the house?

Georgia continues to battle a shortage of health care personnel.

The state vacancy rate among nurses, physical therapists and other health care workers is higher than the national average, according to a new study released earlier this week.

The report, "Understanding Georgia's Health Care Work Force Shortage," was released by the Georgia Hospital Association. It found the vacancy rate for registered nurses in Georgia hospitals is 8.7 percent, or about 1,900 vacant positions.

The national rate is 6 percent.

Other problems cited in the report included aging health care personnel and even higher vacancy rates among physical and occupational therapists.

Losing momentum

Emory Eastside Medical Center in Snellville and Gwinnett Medical Center in Lawrenceville have created aggressive job-recruitment programs by working with high schools and colleges to boost the numbers of health care workers in the pipeline.

The programs have helped reduce vacancy rates, both hospitals said.

But despite recent gains the aging health care work force and cuts in government resources "have cast an ominous cloud on the problem," the Hospital Association said.

Trouble ahead?

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

Susan Hunter, Gwinnett Health System vice president and chief nurse executive, worries about the 8,000 students on waiting lists for health technology courses statewide. The problem is a shortage of faculty, lack of adequate classroom space and the need for more clinical sites including hospitals where students can train.

Job market's mixed signals

Gwinnett's jobless rate rose to 4.8 percent in September, and both positive and negative trends lie behind the increase.

The upside: About 9,450 more Gwinnett residents have jobs compared to last September. The county's jobless rate is also better than Georgia's and metro Atlanta's, both at 5.4 percent.

The downside: More people are flooding the work force at the same time metro Atlanta's job growth is averaging a meager 1 percent. Georgia lost 5,800 jobs in September, with the largest losses coming in the leisure and hospitality industry, the Georgia Department of Labor said.

Trouble in the South

Duluth-based farm equipment maker Agco Corp. is struggling in South America.

In its third-quarter earnings released Wednesday, the company said its net income fell to $27.8 million, or 31 cents a share - below analysts'

expectations.

In 2005, tractor sales in South America have fallen 22 percent and combines 64 percent. An unfavorable sales mix and continued strengthening of Brazilian currency is hurting everyone, Agco said.