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Number of nurses increases in North Dakota

BISMARCK -- The number of registered nurses per capita in North Dakota has increased since 2000 and is well above the national average, but the distribution remains uneven, a health official told legislators Tuesday.

Patricia Moulton of the Center for Rural Health at the University of North Dakota Medical School said there were 14.35 RNs per 1,000 in 2006, compared to 12.9 per 1,000 in 2000. The national average is 8.48 registered nurses per 1,000 people.

Moulton also said the number of registered nurses graduating from nursing schools in the state has climbed since 2000, from 337 in 2000 to 491 in 2007.

Moulton was presenting to the Legislature's interim Human Services Committee.

Sen. John Warner, D-Ryder, asked Moulton about the "tremendous number" of traveling nurses and foreign-born nurses in the state, but Moulton said her information isn't broken down to identify nurses that way.

She said vacancy rate for RNs has plummeted. Last year it was 3 percent, compared to 11 percent in 2005. Vacancies for licensed practical nurses is growing and was 9 percent last year.

Tempering the good numbers is that four counties -- Benson, Sioux, Dunn and Slope -- have fewer than five RNs per 1,000 people. And, Moulton said, 25 percent of today's registered nurses plan to retire by 2016.

Cass, Traill, Grand Forks, Stutsman, Foster, Bowman, Morton and Ward counties are among 14 counties those with between 11 and 15 RNs per 1,000 people. Stark, Hettinger and Grant counties are among 20 counties with between 8.5 and 10.5 RNs.

Burleigh and Adams counties have the highest numbers, with 18 and 19 RNs per 1,000 people.

Turnover is high, Moulton said. Statewide, the turnover rate for RNs last year was 19 percent and for LPNs, 31 percent.

Faculty in the state's nursing schools are being heavily recruited by other states, Moulton said. Examples include offers of $90,000 a year and a $300,000 housing allowance or $100,000 per year for nine months of work, with all summers off.

Janell Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Dickinson Press.