Nurse Shortage Catches Congress’s Attention – Brief Article
Ronald M. Schwartz
Faced with a ballooning shortage of nurses at all levels of healthcare, including long-term care, sponsors of the Nurse Reinvestment Act of 2001 (H.R.1436/S.706) intend to involve Congress in a solution. The bill, sponsored in the House by Reps. Lois Capps (D-CA) and Sue Kelly (R-NY) and in the Senate by Sens. James Jeffords (I-VT) and John Kerry (D-MA), would:
* Increase the federal Medicaid match to help pay for nurse training programs, raising the federal match to 90% of the state funding level.
* Establish a “National Nurse Service Corps,” modeled on military ROTC programs, that would pay for the nursing education of candidates who commit to working in a nursing facility or other healthcare facility with staff shortages.
* Increase Medicare “direct graduate medical education” funding for nurse training programs in hospital- and nonhospital-based settings.
* Establish federal grants to allow nursing facility employees to pursue gerontology or geriatrics degrees or certificates.
* Fund a national public education campaign to improve the public’s perception of the nursing profession.
A Career Ladder Grant program would provide scholarships or stipends for nurse professionals, licensed practical nurses, certified nurse assistants and home health aides who enroll in entry-level nursing programs, as well as programs for advanced practice nursing degrees, RN/ master’s degrees, doctoral degrees, public health nursing, nurse educator training, nurse administrator training and training programs focused on specific technology use or disease management. Underscoring the urgency of the situation is the bill’s mixed bag of supporters, among them: AAHSA, the American Health Care Association, the American Nurses Association, the Service Employees International Union and the National Citizens’ Coalition for Nursing Home Reform.
The congressional General Accounting Office (GAO) weighed in with a major reason for the concern in a study released at a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Addressing “direct care staffing shortages,” the study found: “Over the next several years, even before the baby boomers begin retiring, nurse aide jobs are expected to be among the fastest growing in the workforce. The 40% increase in nurse aide employment from 1988 to 1998 is in contrast to the 19% increase in the number of persons employed in the overall labor market.”
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