Nurse leader hails health care impact on economy

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Despite some challenges, health care-related activities areplaying a key role in sustaining the economy, the executivedirector of the state nurses association said Tuesday.

“Health care and the growth in health care are what’s keepingthe economy alive,” said Ricki Garrett of the Mississippi NursesAssociation.

While speaking to members of the association’s District Two,which includes Lincoln, Pike, Copiah, Walthall and Amite counties,at King’s Daughters Medical Center, Garrett said health carerepresents a “big piece of the pie.”

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“That has turned out to be a real blessing in the currenteconomy,” Garrett said.

Garrett pointed out that while 289,000 jobs were lost last year,jobs in health care fields actually increased by 26,000. And shesaid the average salary of health care professionals is $57,000 ayear.

“That’s a pretty significant salary when compared to othersalary ranges,” Garrett said.

Over the last eight years, Garrett said of 3 million new jobs inthe private sector, 2.5 million of those were related to healthcare.

Garrett indicated that trend will continue due to the advancingage of the population. She attributed that to the aging baby boomerpopulation, plus the fact that health care jobs can’t be outsourcedthat those in manufacturing or other fields.

“Those are going to be jobs that stay in the United States andadd to the economy,” Garrett said.

Although some have voiced concerns about a government takeoverof health care, Garrett pointed out that around half of the moneyspent of health care in the country is already coming from thefederal government in some form.

“We’ve already got a substantial influx of federal dollars inhealth care in the United States,” she said.

Garrett also addressed some difficulties facing the health careindustry, including some that are related to the economy.

Garrett cited statistics from an AARP survey of people 45 andolder indicating that more people are using generic drugs insteadof name brand, delayed seeing a physician, adjusting the medicationto last longer or are not considering health care at all currently.She also said more people are postponing elective surgeries, whichis impacting hospital finances.

Association members talked about ways to address a nursingshortage in the state and nation. Garrett said the shortage isexpected to be around 260,000 by 2025.

Garrett cited the advancing age of nurses, with the average agebeing around 50, and a lack of nursing faculty to teach new nurses.Following meetings with state lawmakers and the governor’s office,she said the association has formed a task force to look at nursingissues, including graduation and retention.

Garrett said the American Nurses Association is supportingPresident Obama’s efforts for national health care reform, but isstepping up efforts to have nurses included in legislationaffecting health care issues. While some members of associationsfrom conservative states have not agreed with the nationalorganization’s stance, Garrett stressed the importance of having aseat at the table during the debate.

“If we’re not there, that voice is not going to be heard,”Garrett said.