Licensed Practical Nurses: A Dying Breed?

Rebecca Hendren, April 12, 2011

As healthcare delivery changes, do licensed practical nurses (also known as licensed vocational nurses) still have a role to play in acute care? A growing number of organizations have decided they do not and are actively phasing out the role.

Just last week, local media reported that Schuylkill Medical Center-South Jackson Street, located in Pottsville, PA, decided to phase out all LPN roles within the next six months. LPNs will be encouraged with the aid of existing tuition reimbursement programs to pursue education to become RNs. Another option for the LPNs is to move into nursing aide positions with lower pay.

Across the country, organizations are wondering whether the LPN meshes with the direction acute care delivery is headed. In some areas of the country, staff shortages mean the LPN in acute care cannot be abandoned. However, as healthcare delivery changes and hospitals streamline care delivery models, organizations are acutely aware they will need staff with higher levels of education to provide the nursing care needed by hospital patients.

Moving away from LPNs must be handled with care. Depending on the number of LPNs an organization employs, the move could be contentious if not handled with tact. Some organizations have faced the threat of age discrimination suits from LPNs angry at being pushed out.

Others believe that pursuing designation as an ANCC Magnet Recognition Program® (MRP) facility—a designation of nursing excellence—involves doing away with the LPN. The popular nursing website Allnurses.com has featured discussions where LPNs believed pursuing MRP designation would get them fired. In fact, the MRP program has no requirements for RN-only care models.

Rebecca Hendren Rebecca Hendren is a senior managing editor at HCPro, Inc. in Danvers, MA. She edits www.StrategiesForNurseManagers.com and manages The Leaders' Lounge blog for nurse managers. Email her at rhendren@hcpro.com.
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