April 17, 2024

Nunn legislation to increase nursing schools’ capacity

High school students from the region learn about medical first responders last month at Southwestern Community College's nursing program. Iowa Rep. Zach Nunn is proposing legislation to increase student capacity at nursing schools.

Southwestern Community College’s nursing program is appreciative of the efforts by Iowa Rep. Zach Nunn. It just hopes more can be put into the country’s community college system.

Nunn (IA-03) and Nevada Rep. Dina Titus introduced bipartisan legislation last week to address the nursing shortage impacting healthcare nationwide. The Train More Nurses Act requires the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop a plan to increase capacity at nursing schools.

“The nationwide shortage of nurses is hurting Iowa families’ ability to get the care they need,” said Rep. Nunn. “We urgently need to improve the nursing pipeline, and that starts with addressing the need for more nursing faculty, especially in rural and underserved communities.”

Maureen Weaver, the department chair of Southwestern’s nursing program, said things are not as dramatic from her experiences.

“They usually have jobs in hand,” Weaver said about Southwestern nursing students before they finish their respective study. She said what has helped is annual job fair of two dozen entities needing nurses.

In 2020, the state of Iowa released its Nursing Demand Survey and found that nearly 70% of medical facilities were struggling to fill open nursing positions due to a shortage of qualified job applicants. The problem stems in part from the fact that nursing schools are limited in the number of students they can take on to help grow the workforce due to a shortage of nursing school faculty. In 2021, U.S. nursing schools had to turn away nearly 100,000 qualified applicants due to a lack of teachers.

Weaver said she hoped more could be put into two-year schools with nursing programs, like Southwestern, as much of the attention has been put on four-year schools’ nursing programs. Weaver said master’s degrees are required to instruct community college classes.

“It has been hard for us to find clinical instructors,” she said. “We could use the help.”

Weaver said Southwestern’s RN (registered nurse) program is unusually not full. It is common for those with LPN certification (licensed practical nurse) to transfer to a RN program.

“It could be because they have already found a job,” Weaver said about the low RN program numbers.

Despite Southwestern’s success with its nursing program, other places see the challenges.

“As the demand for quality healthcare across the state continues, Nevada faces a shortage of 4,000 nurses,” said Rep. Titus.The Train More Nurses Act is a critical step toward ensuring we can leverage tools to meet this demand and provide the necessary support at the federal level for our healthcare workers. By enhancing career pathways, addressing shortages in underserved areas, and facilitating the transition from LPNs to RNs, we are taking important strides towards bolstering our healthcare workforce and meeting the needs of patients.”

Weaver said the nursing shortage is not a new problem as there were symptoms before the COVID pandemic that started in early 2020. She said the shortage was more apparent during and since the pandemic.

“We are facing acute and long-standing workforce challenges in healthcare, and so it’s imperative that we find ways to grow our workforce, especially in underserved areas of Iowa,” said Aaron Todd, Chief Executive Officer of the Iowa Primary Care Association. “Nurses are essential members to our healthcare teams and helping Iowans reach their health potential. We are grateful to Representative Nunn for his work to identify solutions to pressing workforce needs.”

Weaver said students are ready to go work only after two years of school.

“Nursing homes nationwide, including those in Iowa, are grappling with severe staffing shortages, worsened by the pandemic,” said Brent Willett, President and CEO of the Iowa Health Care Association. “In Iowa, nursing homes have experienced a 10% workforce reduction since 2020. The impending retirements of experienced registered nurses (RNs) and insufficient nursing program enrollment compound this issue, with over 50% of RNs over 50 years old and meager 1.2% annual RN growth predicted in Iowa. Additionally, RN program graduation rates in Iowa have decreased by 1.5% over a decade. Amid these challenges, a proposed federal staffing mandate from the Biden Administration is not in contact with reality and fails seniors across the country, who will see their access to long-term care severely limited if enacted. The Iowa Health Care Association genuinely appreciates Congressman Nunn’s support in protecting access for our state’s most vulnerable citizens.”

The bipartisan Train More Nurses Act will help address the nursing workforce shortage by requiring the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop a plan utilizing grant programs to address the nursing faculty shortage, which will in turn help train more nurses to fill critical healthcare positions.

John Van Nostrand

JOHN VAN NOSTRAND

An Iowa native, John's newspaper career has mostly been in small-town weeklies from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. He first stint in Creston was from 2002 to 2005.