Testimony of Joan Verplanck
President, New Jersey Chamber of Commerce
Before the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee
New Jersey State Legislature, Trenton, New Jersey
Thank you Chairman Vitale, Vice Chair Weinberg, and members of this Committee for allowing me to make the business case for increasing the number of nurse educators in New Jersey and across the nation. It is a high priority for the business community.
My name is Joan Verplanck, and I am president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, an advocacy organization in Trenton that works to create an environment in which New Jersey’s businesses can grow and thrive. A climate that is friendly to businesses, we believe, will lead to economic prosperity that will benefit all of our state’s citizens.
A number of factors threaten to undermine our state’s business climate, and the high cost of health care is high on that list. As individuals, we know that high quality health care is extremely expensive, even for those of us who have full insurance coverage. As employers, we pay an even higher premium for that care. Health care costs are the single largest cost driver of business today, and the high price of health insurance prevents many of our businesses from flourishing.
Lawmakers around the country are currently engaging in a debate over how to overhaul our nation’s health care system so that it works better for both employees and employers. One way to do that, here in New Jersey and across the nation, is to ensure that hospitals and other care settings have an adequate supply of nurses. The largest segment of the health care workforce, nurses play a key role in maintaining employee health and wellness and in providing workers and their families with a wide range of health services at all stages of their lives.
Unfortunately, we are moving in the wrong direction when it comes to our nation’s supply of nurses. Experts predict an unprecedented shortfall of nurses in the next decade, and the problem is expected to be especially acute in New Jersey. The shortage couldn’t come at a worse time: As baby-boomers age, they are placing greater demands than ever on the nation’s health care system.
The current economic downturn may have temporarily eased the shortage in some areas, but it won’t bridge the looming gap between the shrinking supply of nurses and the rising demand for their services.
What does this mean for businesses? Put simply, a greater likelihood of failure.
Already, the annual cost to businesses of poor health care quality per covered employee is $1,900. Each year, inadequate care costs businesses as many as 45 million avoidable sick days—the equivalent of 180,000 full time employees calling in sick every day for a full year. This costs employers more than $7 billion a year in lost productivity.
That staggering price tag will increase as nurses become scarcer and the quality of care deteriorates as a result. And that will translate into lower productivity and higher absenteeism in the workplace.
For employers, the bottom line is this: Businesses will have an even harder time staying profitable—an already difficult challenge in an inhospitable business climate. If the nurse shortage is not reversed, our state’s already struggling economy will suffer even more. A robust and dynamic nursing workforce is key to business productivity, worker health, and the economic development the state needs.
The good news is that the shortage can be curbed, and even reversed, by training more nurses to fill the shoes of those preparing to leave the profession. But right now, nursing schools do not have enough faculty to train the nurses we need to meet projected demand. As a result, nursing schools are turning away thousands of qualified aspiring nurses. The shortage of nurse educators is only expected to grow as nurse faculty age along with the rest of the nursing workforce. In New Jersey, the average age of a nurse faculty member is 55.
We in the business community recognize that hiring more nurse educators to train the next generation of nurses is the kind of real-world solution we need. That is why we at the Chamber are helping to lead the New Jersey Nursing Initiative, which will provide dozens of new nurse faculty who can train the next generation of nurses in this state. We are delighted to work with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on this essential Initiative, and grateful for its support and the incredible service it is doing for the state.
Sensible efforts like the New Jersey Nursing Initiative are a way to help our employers, employees and citizens prosper in an uncertain future.