Workers from abroad recruited

Hospitals challenged by nursing care shortage

Michael Villas und Joyce Ann Grafia von den Philippinen arbeiten als Pfleger für die Unikliniken.

Michael Villas and Joyce Ann Grafia from the Philippines work as nursing care professionals in the university clinics.

Bonn. Bonn hospitals are having problems finding good nursing staff. They rely on their own training programs, recruit staff from abroad and hope for a new nursing law to have a positive effect. Verdi has announced warning strikes at university clinics for Monday and Tuesday.

The situation can be called serious: The German Nursing Council predicts that by 2030 there will be a shortage of 300,000 nursing staff in Germany. Already today it is difficult for hospitals to find qualified nursing care professionals. "The market simply doesn't exist anymore," says Alexander Pröbstl, Director of Nursing at Bonn University Hospitals. And he is not alone with staffing issues. Other hospitals in Bonn also have difficulties filling job vacancies.

Necessity is the mother of invention. In addition to the national labor market and their own training programs, university hospitals rely on qualified personnel from abroad. Michael Villas and Joyce Ann Grafia come from the Philippines and already belong to the more experienced nursing staff on the Venusberg. "The situation in my home country is difficult, nurses earn only a few hundred euros. I can't feed my family with that," says Villas. His co-worker Grafia hasn't been there as long as he has been, and she also supports her family with her salary: "When there are problems understanding patients, there's always someone who can help me," she says. Villas was paid as a nursing assistant in the beginning but now receives a full salary since permanent status was granted by the German authorities. They are on an equal footing with German employees. Villas and Grafia enjoyed a university education in their home country, which Pröbstl describes as "very sound”.

German lessons at home

At the Goethe Institute they receive qualified German lessons in preparation for their employment abroad. "By the way, the language instruction is continued here in Bonn as well as the professional further qualification. Since hospitals in countries such as Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Philippines have a hard time networking on their own, the institutions draw on the "Triple Win" initiative of the Federal Employment Agency, which cooperates with similar agencies in these countries.

The German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) is also involved as a state organization for development cooperation. Their focus on these countries has primarily to do with sustainability. According to employment agency information, these are nations that have a surplus of nursing staff. However, the program has met with criticism because the language skills of the applicants vary greatly. For this reason, the university clinics visit the countries themselves to gain an impression of the future employees. "We have had positive experiences," says Pröbstl.

He sees recruitment from foreign countries as only part of the puzzle in fulfilling staff requirements.  He believes the law on the strengthening of nursing staff, which makes it possible to hire new employees, is also a reasonable approach.  In view of the high costs involved in nursing care and the numerous overtime hours that have to be worked every year, politicians must ask themselves: "Where do we want to go in Germany? What standard do we want?”

Union says better pay is essential to improve sector

In Scandinavian countries, there is one nurse for every four to five patients; in Germany, one healthcare professional currently cares for twice as many people. The nursing laws point in the right direction, says Pröbstl: "Germany is on the way to approaching European standards in the quality of care for the population. At present, Germany ranks in the lower third of the OECD in terms of staffing levels in the nursing care sector."  Verdi believes that better pay in the nursing profession is necessary in order to upgrade the sector. That is why the union of university hospital employees is calling for another warning strike next Monday and Tuesday in Bonn to express its demand for a six percent wage increase and an annual one-off payment of 500 euros.

Those starting careers in the public sector start at around 2700 euros but at university hospitals it is 30 euros less, with salaries topping out at 3391 and 3327 euros plus bonuses.  "The reality at present is that many employees only work part-time and also earn extra money through temporary employment contracts or as self-employed persons because it is worth it for them," Appellhoff said.  

Johanniter Krankenhaus and Waldkrankenhaus (hospitals) have 20 positions they could fill but it is not easy.  For that reason, they operate a nurse’s training program together with the Asklepios Clinic.  They train two groups of 60 nurses for a three-year program.  Staff are also recruited from Italy, with the hospitals paying for language lessons.  

Incentives offered to nursing professionals

In the community hospitals, Sankt Petrus on Bonner Talweg and Sankt Elisabeth on Prinz-Albert-Straße, employees are offered incentives such as subsidies for daycare places and bikes to get to work as well as working time arrangements to create an attractive working environment. The hospitals would have been able to take on almost all of the trainees at the in-house nursing school last year. "We are just as open to nursing staff from abroad as long as they meet the language requirements and are part of our understanding of nursing," says Sabine Simski, Nursing Director of the Gemeinschaftskrankenhaus Bonn (Bonn Community Hospital).

Malteser Hospital also has eleven positions which are not filled.  They offer incentives such as regular professional training or an additional payment for short-term substitution. School interns can get a taste of the profession and Malteser International employees regularly visit surrounding schools to promote the profession.

The LVR clinic at Kaiser-Karl-Ring now receives considerably fewer applications. Despite in-house training and qualified staff from abroad, "our efforts do not solve the problem," says spokesman Tillmann Daub. Especially in psychiatry, good communication is particularly important and the ability to speak the language is crucial.

Orig. text: Philipp Koenigs Translation summary: Carol Kloeppel