State public health director talks about great opportunities Gov. Blagojevich’s new nursing plan offers for Macomb and the surrounding area
Gov. Blagojevich’s plan increases nursing educators, provides financial help for nursing students and improves working conditions
MACOMB, Ill. - Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, state public health director, spoke today with doctors and nurses from McDonough District Hospital and staff from Western Illinois University (WIU) about the outlook of nursing in Illinois and Governor Rod R. Blagojevich’s recently passed legislation to ensure the state has an adequate level of frontline healthcare providers. According to Western Illinois University’s Provost and Academic Vice President, Joseph Rallo, Ph.D., the university hopes to include a nursing program in its curriculum and the Governor’s nursing legislation would assist the school in meeting faculty and facility needs.
To head off an anticipated severe shortage of nurses resulting from an aging nursing workforce and increased demand for nurses due to aging baby boomers, Gov. Blagojevich’s nursing shortage plan will increase the number of faculty available to train nurses, make it more affordable for nursing students to attend school, and improve working conditions for nurses by creating the new Illinois State Nursing Center.
“Nurses are on the frontlines when it comes to healthcare. They have the most contact with a patient and our healthcare system would be crippled without them,” said Dr. Whitaker. “Now is the time to take action. Training new faculty and graduating new students will take two to four years, so we need to act now before a full blown nursing shortage hits us.”
The number of potential caregivers, including nurses, is projected to decrease 4.2 percent between 2000 and 2020, while the number of those who need care is projected to increase by 31 percent. All told, by 2020 Illinois could be facing a shortage of more than 21,000 nurses. According to region-by-region numbers put together by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), the state currently has a nursing shortage of 7 percent (vacancies vs. jobs filled) and that shortage is projected to grow to almost 8,000 registered nurses and 1,200 licensed practical nurses (per year, projected through 2010).
The Governor’s plan addresses the shortage in a number of ways:
- Development of the Center for Nursing: A Center for Nursing will be established within the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, charged with goals such as developing a strategic plan for nursing manpower in Illinois, maintaining a database on nursing supply and demand, and creating nursing retention and recruitment initiatives.
- Nursing educator scholarships: Since every additional faculty member in nursing can add 10 more nurses to the workforce, the Center will also be charged with the creation of a nursing education scholarship that will make pursuing a career in nursing education more attractive and more affordable in the State of Illinois. This year’s budget includes $1.3 million for these scholarships.
- Grants to nursing schools: Capacity in nursing colleges around the country is reaching the breaking point. In fact, more than 26,000 qualified applicants were turned away from baccalaureate granting nursing programs in the United States because of faculty shortages, crowded clinical facilities, and funding shortfalls. In Illinois, more than 1,100 qualified applicants were not admitted. In order to increase the number of faculty, and the number of graduating nurses as a result, Illinois will make competitive grants available to nursing schools. These could be used to hire more faculty members or create evening or weekend training programs, among other options. In fiscal year 2007, a $1.5 million grant will be available to nursing schools to increase the number of graduating nurses, as well as $150,000 for 15 nurse educator fellowships that would supplement faculty salaries.
- Changes to the existing nursing scholarship program: The legislation amends the existing nursing education scholarship law to allow merit, in addition to financial need, to be taken into consideration when determining recipients of the nursing scholarship. Merit is to be shown through measures such as GPA, class rank, academic and extracurricular activities. Taking in account merit in awarding these scholarships will improve the successful completion rate of nursing education programs as well as helping Illinois produce high quality nurses.
- Student loan repayment for nurse educators: The legislation contains provisions for a future loan forgiveness program for those who choose to become nursing faculty. The Illinois Nurse Educator Loan Repayment Program, through the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC), is an incentive for nurses to become educators. The program will allow current nurse educators, or those in a Master’s level or Ph.D. program to become a nurse educator, to receive $5,000 in student loan forgiveness a year, for up to four years. For every year of student loan forgiveness they receive, they must work for one year as a nurse educator in Illinois. The program will be up and running by Fiscal Year 08.
“This legislation recognizes the extraordinary need for health care professionals, especially nurses, in the region. As importantly, it puts into place monetary and certification measures which will assist Western Illinois University and its partners in crafting programs to address that need,” said Rallo.
In order to eliminate the nursing shortage, approximately $3-5 million a year will be spent on these programs through 2020, for a total of about $50 million.
The Governor has initiated several other steps to both retain nurses that are already practicing and bring more nurses to Illinois. They include:
- Critical Skills Shortage Initiative (CSSI): The Governor made a commitment in his 2005 State of the State speech to address the shortage of health care workers through his Critical Skills Shortage Initiative (CSSI). Eighteen million dollars is being invested statewide to ensure that every region of the state has a well-trained and equipped workforce in the health care industry. Through an innovative approach that is currently being replicated by Indiana, Local Workforce Investment Boards, area employers, economic development professionals, educators and service providers are developing individualized strategies to address local employment needs and to get more health care professionals into the workforce.
- Establishing the Nursing Education Scholarship Program: The Nursing Education Scholarship Program has increased its effectiveness with additional funding included in the reauthorization of the Nursing Practice Act, signed by Gov. Blagojevich in 2004. The Act increased the percentage of license fees that are transferred into the scholarship program. In 2006, there will be $1.2 million – an increase of $450,000 – to provide approximately 150 students with financial assistance to pursue an associate degree in nursing, an associate degree in applied sciences in nursing, a hospital-based diploma in nursing, a baccalaureate degree in nursing, a graduate degree in nursing, or a certificate in practical nursing.
- Streamlining the license process: Through a coordinated effort by the Governor’s Office, the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) and the Illinois State Police (ISP), 800 nurse-licensing applications were reviewed and approved since the Governor’s announcement in the State of the State address. Since 2001, Illinois has required nursing professionals to submit to a background check as part of the application process. A backlog of more than 1,800 applications had built up since the law was enacted. Both IDFPR and ISP have developed comprehensive guidelines for dealing with licensed fingerprint vendors to ensure that backlogs do not recur in the future.
- Keeping nurses in Illinois: A new law enables advanced practice nurses to be licensed in more than one specialty without having multiple graduate degrees as long as they have the educational and clinical experience to be nationally certified. This encourages highly trained advanced practice nurses to stay in Illinois by making it easier for them to advance in their careers.
- Establishing a first-in-the-nation externship program: Nurses who are licensed under the laws of another state or territory of the U.S., primarily from Puerto Rico, who wish to practice in Illinois and are preparing to take the National Council Licensure Examination, are now allowed to work under the direct supervision of a registered professional nurse licensed in Illinois while they are enrolled in a course which prepares them for the licensure exam and acclimates them to nursing and health care delivery in our state. This increases diversity within the nursing profession and prepares nurses educated in a U.S. territory for practice in Illinois.