Lieutenant Gov. Patti Judge Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge says it’s time to get serious about Iowa’s nursing shortage. "For nurses in Iowa, pay remains among the lowest in the nation and the outlook for replacing nurses that are retiring is very poor," Judge says.

Judge has just released a report which shows one-third of Iowa’s nurses will retire in the next decade and Iowa’s nursing colleges haven’t enough faculty so there’s a waiting list for students who want to enter the profession. The lieutenant governor says it’s too late this year to propose new state spending, but she’ll sit down with Governor Culver this morning to start charting goals for 2009, including an effort to get the feds to increase the reimbursement rates for Medicare and Medicaid patients who get treatment in Iowa.

"Nurses do worse under reimbursement than other health care professionals and so even in a climate that’s not good for any health care professional, nurses are doing the worst," Judge says. Judge was a nurse herself, but a combination of burnout and low pay led her to move into another "more lucrative" job. Judge says she hopes Iowa nursing pay will go up and a new generation of nurses will enter the profession.

"It is a great profession. It’s a noble profession and it’s one that young men and women will find that is very, very rewarding," Judge says. Judge and her nursing task force suggest the state should direct community colleges and other institutions which train nurses to make nursing programs more rigorous and also suggest it’s time to increase forgivable loans and scholarships for nursing students. Judge is also urging the state’s health care industry to boost nursing wages to the national average.

"We had a lot of resistance, people thought we couldn’t do it for the teachers. By golly, we did, and I think it’s time we start figuring out how we’re going to do it for nurses, too," she says. Judge, however, isn’t promising millions more in state spending to boost nurse pay as she says the state has "very little latitude" in changing the state’s reimbursement rates for Medicaid patients.

Six weeks ago, Governor Culver asked Judge to assemble a task force to make recommendations for increasing nursing pay and dealing with the pending nursing shortage. Former Governor Tom Vilsack also appointed a nursing task force in the closing months of his administration to examine the same issues.