HHS Announces Grants to Address Nursing Shortage
HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson announced last Friday at Georgetown University that the agency will provide $27.4 million in grants to 82 universities, colleges and related organizations nationwide to address the U.S. nursing shortage, which he called "one of America's most serious health problems." Thompson said that grant recipients would use more than $20.1 million of the funds to attract more individuals to the nursing profession and improve the quality of training for nurses (Josh Kotzman, California Healthline, 10/1). The $20.1 million includes more than $13 million to fund education for students who graduate from nursing programs, a $4.9 million to increase enrollment in bachelor's degree nursing programs, $1.8 million to help students from low-income families with their nursing education and about $400,000 to help schools of nursing and public health develop master's degree nursing education programs (HHS release, 9/28). In addition, Thompson said that HHS would provide an additional $7.3 million to repay loans for nursing students who agree to "work in specific public or non-profit health care facilities" after graduation. Thompson said, "This administration is going to work to make sure that hospitals, clinics and community health centers have the nurses that they need." Patricia Underwood, first vice president of the American Nurses Association, added, "The United States is on the verge of an unprecedented nursing shortage. The emerging shortage of registered nurses poses a real threat to the nation's health care system and public health." According to Thompson, by 2020, the United States will have a shortage of more than 500,000 nurses.
Thompson said that he would help lawmakers develop a bill to address the U.S. nursing shortage and improve nursing education, predicting that Congress may pass legislation early next year or "maybe even yet this year." However, Thompson did not endorse proposals that lawmakers introduced earlier this year, adding, "I want to sit down with all of them and just develop one that can get through on a bipartisan basis." Thompson said, for example, "there are better ways" to address the nursing shortage than legislation that would ban mandatory overtime for nurses in hospitals, a proposal introduced by Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) in March. Over the next year, Thompson said that he plans to "examine all additional steps" that HHS could take to improve nursing education and "enhance" the nursing profession. He also said that he may develop a program with the Department of Labor to attract more individuals to the nursing. In addition, he said that he would help develop and improve state programs to provide training for nurses and ask universities and colleges to offer "leading-edge training" to nurses, including evening, weekend and online courses. Thompson also said that he plans to ask business leaders, hospitals, clinics and health centers to "address the concerns of nurses across the board" (Kotzman, California Healthline, 10/1).