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The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health
GULF COAST HEALTH SERVICES STEERING COMMITTEE
In the 1990s, a group of CEOs of Houston-area businesses and philanthropic groups formed the Gulf Coast Health Services Steering Committee (GCHSSC)3 to address a local nursing shortage. This partnership brings together executives from area hospitals, health care systems, and academic institutions. The group was determined to work together to develop regional solutions to workforce challenges that affected the 13 counties of the greater Houston area. One of the four initial areas of focus for the GCHSSC was building educational capacity to accommodate more nursing students. The other three focus areas addressed legislation and regulations, advancing health careers, and improving the work environment where nurses practice. Building educational capacity remains a central focus of the GCHSSC to this day. Thanks to its efforts, more than $30 million was infused into Houston area nursing schools from 2001 to 2008.4
Use of Data
One of the first things the GCHSSC’s educational capacity work group decided to do was to start tracking the numbers of enrollments, graduates, and qualified applicants who are turned away from nursing schools in the greater Houston area. The GCHSSC quickly concluded that nursing schools were graduating the bulk of their students at the wrong time. Nearly all students graduated in May and took their licensing exam shortly thereafter. Yet this is the time that hospitals—still the major employers of nurses in the Houston area—have their lowest number of inpatient admissions; the highest number of inpatient admissions typically occurs in January and February. The GCHSSC therefore approached the nursing schools about implementing rolling admissions so that entry-level nurses would graduate in the fall, winter, and spring. Results thus far are promising. The GCHSSC projects that the spring surge in graduates will nearly disappear in the next 2 years.
Increased Student Enrollment
The various initiatives undertaken by the GCHSSC have resulted in a 73 percent increase in student enrollment in Houston prelicensure nursing programs, from 2,211 in fall 1998 to 3,829 in fall 2008. Several schools are opening branch campuses and offering online programs to further increase the pool of eligible students. With an eye toward increasing both the numbers and diversity of the nursing student body, the University of Houston has launched a nursing program in Victoria, Texas, a city located about 120 miles outside of Houston. Victoria has a population of 60,000, approximately 45 percent of which is Hispanic (U.S.
This section draws on personal communication in March 2010 with Mary Koch, Health Services Liason, Workforce Solutions/Houston-Galveston Area Council; and Michael Jhin, who was CEO of St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital at the time the GCHSSC launched.