Johnson & Johnson, which between Tylenol and Band-Aids is arguably the largest supplier of tools of the nursing profession, has launched a multiyear, nationwide campaign aimed at easing the much-discussed workforce shortage in hospitals and extended-care facilities.
The New Brunswick, N.J.-based healthcare company has promised to pour more than $20 million over the next two years into advertising, recruitment, a Web site and scholarship funds. Television ads, which represent a major component of the initiative, already are airing in prime time spots during the Winter Olympics with the tag line "Be a Nurse; Dare to Care."
The campaign aims to address a shortage of an estimated 126,000 registered nurses in hospitals nationwide-a dearth that is expected to grow to more than 400,000 vacancies in all healthcare facilities by 2020, J&J officials said. They noted their mission and role as a broad-ranging provider of healthcare products in explaining their deep-rooted interest in the issue.
A multitude of programs and ideas for addressing the shortage has sprouted as studies increasingly warn of a national crisis (Feb. 4, p. 18). But the Campaign for Nursing's Future, as the J&J initiative is called, appears to be the first corporate-inspired effort-at least of this scale. J&J officials said they hope the campaign, which was developed in collaboration with national nursing organizations, will serve as a catalyst for change.
Last week's press conference in New York coincided with growing concern over the long-identified shortage of bedside nurses, a situation exacerbated, some fear, by increasingly demanding working conditions. As state and federal officials mull the options for increasing the supply of nursing professionals while easing the day-to-day demand on frontline workers, all eyes are on California, which has taken the daring step of legislating mandatory nurse-staffing ratios (Jan. 28, p. 8).
J&J officials said the campaign will expand in the future to address retention issues, but for the moment, it is focused on recruitment. "It's a big picture problem, and Johnson & Johnson is addressing it comprehensively," said Mary Foley, president of the Washington-based American Nurses Association. "They've promised (they will later focus on retention efforts), and we're not going to let them forget that promise."
Already, the healthcare industry appears to have taken at least one small step toward resolving the crisis, according to a national poll released by Vanderbilt University Medical Center in conjunction with the J&J announcement. The study found that more than eight in 10 Americans recognize that there is a nursing shortage and three out of four are concerned that it will affect their individual healthcare. The same survey found the nursing profession has no public relations problem: The vast majority of people indicated they respect and admire nurses.
Terence O'Brien, executive vice president and chief operating officer of New York's 652-bed Lenox Hill Hospital and 30-bed Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, said he views the J&J campaign as "a jab, not surgery-by prodding a whole variety of people into making investments at the entry point."
Even a jab is welcome. Lenox Hill spent $5.5 million last year on temporary nurse agencies because of unfilled positions at the tony Park Avenue hospital. O'Brien considers it lost money because temporary nurses provide only temporary relief, exacerbating the problem by requiring "more people to work overtime, which makes it even worse," he said. "I'd much rather invest the money in improving the long-term retainability of people."
Nursing salaries do not seem to be an issue in attracting new recruits, officials agreed. Lenox Hill pays starting nurses a base rate of approximately $55,000 a year, and has what O'Brien said he considers a good relationship with the workers' union. Still, the hospital has a 6.5% vacancy rate, a number he hesitated to give because it is probably just "the tip of the iceberg," he said. Discharges are climbing so rapidly that staffing needs are a moving target.
Over the next few weeks, J&J's advertising campaign will be reinforced with other materials, including recruitment materials for high schools, prospective nursing students, hospitals and nursing schools. J&J also is planning a series of multiyear fund-raising events in major cities in conjunction with hospitals and nursing groups, providing additional capital for nursing scholarships and awards for nursing excellence.
Meanwhile, J&J subsidiary McNeil Consumer & Specialty Pharmaceuticals said last week that it is revamping a long-standing scholarship program to focus on health-related careers. Through its well-known Tylenol brand, McNeil Consumer has offered generalized scholarships since the late 1980s but decided last week to award grants only to people pursuing careers in medicine. By April 30, McNeil Consumer will award $250,000 in scholarships to students in a variety of health-related fields. The company plans to give 10 grants of $10,000 each and 150 grants of $1,000 each. In connection with the scholarships, Tylenol will post some 15,000 displays in pharmacies and drugstores across the country.
Though J&J's nursing recruitment campaign is separate, the Tylenol scholarship complements what J&J is doing to attract new nurses.