Demand for Florida nurses starting to rise again

( Nurses are once again expected to be in rising demand in Florida this year, with almost 30,000 needed, according to a new report on Thursday.

Hospitals and home health look to be the biggest employers seeking nurses for existing vacancies and a growing demand for health care, said the report by the Florida Center for Nursing.

The statewide demand for nurses has turned upward after being flat for several years as a result of the recession, the report said. Experts said hiring had been down because patients were putting off health care, and financial pressure led many nurses to postpone retirement and work longer hours.

Nursing schools expect to produce about 11,000 graduates this year, the report said. As of last summer, the state had about 530,000 licensed nursing professionals.

That trend is gradually shifting in South Florida, as well, said Ralph Egües Jr., executive director of the Nursing Shortage Consortium of South Florida, a group made up of hospitals, nursing schools and other health providers.

“It’s up. But things have not started to significantly change yet. We still have a lot of nurses working four 12-hour-days or who have not retired who would like to,” Egües said.

At some point soon, he said, the economy will improve enough that nurses feel comfortable to retire and work less, creating a huge need in South Florida. He predicted vacant nursing jobs, now under 5 percent of the total, may zoom to 12 percent or more – even more than before the recession.

“I don’t think we’re going to come out of this gradually. I think it’s going to more like falling off a cliff,” Egües said.

The report projected a need for almost 30,000 nurses this year, including 15,750 registered nurses and 14,000 licensed practical nurses and certified nursing assistants. About half the need is to fill open jobs, the rest to handle newly needed jobs.

New jobs would be created by the opening of a few new hospitals – one is planned in Jupiter – as well as growth in outpatient centers and home health.

No South Florida figures are available but Egües said the trends are similar.