04/15/07 — Duplin health department asking for salary hike for its nurses

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Duplin health department asking for salary hike for its nurses

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on April 15, 2007 2:05 AM

Duplin County's health department isn't in dire straits and contrary to some rumors, it isn't faced with the prospect of closing its doors. But, director Ila Davis said, it is in need of help.

Currently she's faced with three nursing vacancies -- not a crippling number, she said, but with only 14 positions total, it does hurt, especially when some are on vacation or out sick.

Still, that's only part of the story.

The other side is the fact that since 2000, she's had 18 nurses come and go.

"They're staying an average of two years or less," she said.

And, she continued, with at least two nurses nearing retirement age within the next three years, she's concerned if the turnover continues, her department could be left with a dearth of experience.

The problem, she explained, is not that her nurses are straight out of school -- a year of nursing experience is a requirement -- but that public health nursing is a different kind of profession that requires extra training.

Public health nurses are called on to not only give immunizations and serve other basic medical needs, but also to do adult health physicals, well-child screenings and family planning.

"Public health nurses have what we call enhanced roles and it just takes a long time get that certification," Davis said.

It's also expensive.

She explained that according to a study done by the N.C. Office of Public Health in 2004, health departments in the eastern region, on average, spend more than $28,000 to advertise, interview and orientate new nurses -- not including the cost of training.

And, she added, it's also a cost that's going up every year.

But she's hopeful things might soon change.

She's requesting that the county Board of Commissioners allocate an additional $105,000 to her department in fiscal year 2007-08 so she can increase her salaries.

Currently the starting salary for nurses is $37,520.

"The starting pay is so much less than what they're coming from, they have to take a $10,000 to $15,000 and sometimes $20,000 pay cut," Davis said. "We're just not competing salary-wise.

"Most people we find are willing to take that $10,000 pay cut, but go beyond that and they're not willing to do it."

And, she continued, even those who do, often still find themselves having trouble.

"In the exit interviews, it's not that they're unhappy or they don't enjoy their work. We're Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and their hours are set. If they've got children at home it's a really nice schedule," she said. "And we have people come for that reason.

"But then, further down the line, they find out it's not working so great in terms of the money."

So she's asking for salaries to be increased -- $43,000 to start and then increased for the other nurses based on responsibilities and years of experience.

"We're not that much different from Sampson, Onslow and Wayne (counties), but they're having trouble, too," she said.

The problem is the competition from home health agencies, which offer similar hours but more money.

She had hoped to implement the new salary schedule this month, but on April 2, the commissioners turned down her request, deferring it till their budget negotiations. The increase would have cost the county an additional $25,000 this current fiscal year.

"I would have liked for them to go ahead and address the issue because I feel like I'm wasting my time to even advertise the vacancies we have," she said. "If they make any changes, they probably won't take action until July.

"I'm not planning on closing the doors or anything, but it does put me in a bind."