The country has a nursing shortage, and West Virginia is among the states where the situation is especially acute. Hospitals and health care facilities are constantly trying to fill vacancies created when nurses quit or retire.
Plus, there are vacancies due to natural growth because of the increased demand for health care at medical facilities and nursing homes.
Recently, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency because of the shortage. He signed an executive order allowing nursing schools to enroll more students and letting nurses licensed in other states to continue practicing in Kentucky.
In West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice last week announced an allocation of $48 million in federal CARES Act funding to expanding nursing education in the state. The initiatives include:
- Fully funding the West Virginia Nursing Scholarship Program. Cynthia Persily, senior director of health sciences for the Higher Education Policy Commission, said the program is a “highly effective” way of attracting people to the profession. It includes a requirement that graduates spend a portion of their career in the state.
- The creation of a Nursing Faculty Loan Repayment Program. Nursing training programs often have difficulty hiring and retaining nursing school faculty because they can make more money elsewhere. This program is designed to encourage nurses to pursue careers in education.
- Expansion of existing nursing programs in the state. Persily said every school that can take on more nursing students can apply for grants from the CARES funding. Some nursing schools have wait lists, so this should open more spaces.
Persily said the combination of these programs should create up to 2,300 more nursing graduates, and that should help alleviate some of the shortage in the future.
But what about the critical need that exists now?
Joyce Wilson, president of the West Virginia Nurses Association, told WOWK-TV, “The $48 million aimed at training nurses helps over the long run, but that’s not going to help the situation right now. We felt like we should’ve been asked, and we felt hurt that we had asked for CARES money to help nurses on the front lines, and we couldn’t get it.”
But maybe there is some assistance on that front, as well.
Persily said last week on MetroNews’ “Talkline” that there are funds that have been set aside to help with the immediate need.
“We will be working with the Hospital Association, the West Virginia Health Care Association [and Department of Health and Human Resources] to look at how those funds can be used to recruit new nurses into the state, as well as retain the nurses that we currently have.”
But no details were immediately available.
Nursing already is a challenging profession and, because of COVID-19, the past two years have put additional strain on them. Justice’s plans for the long term will help. However, our nurses and health care institutions need help now.
We hope whatever else the administration has planned will be revealed soon.