Senators Mikulski And Collins Successful In Obtaining Funding To Ease Nursing Shortage

WASHINGTON, D.C. At the urging of Senators Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD) and Susan M. Collins (R-ME), this week a Senate committee approved increased funding for programs to recruit and retain more nurses. The Senate Appropriations Committee passed the FY 2005 Senate Labor, Health, and Human Services Appropriations bill (S. 2810) that would increase funding for the Nurse Reinvestment Act and other nursing workforce development programs (Title VIII) by $20 million, bringing the total funding to almost $162 million for these vital programs.

“America is facing a nursing shortage,” said Senator Mikulski. “There are more than 125,000 nurse vacancies in hospitals nationwide. In Maryland, nearly 11 percent of hospital nursing jobs are vacant. The nursing shortage is only getting worse. Senator Collins and I worked together to make nursing recruitment and retention a priority in the federal law book when we passed the Nurse Reinvestment Act in 2002. Now we are working together to make sure nursing is a priority in the federal checkbook.”

The bill increases federal funding for the Nurse Reinvestment Act and other nursing workforce development programs to recruit and retain nurses. The Senators fought two years ago to pass the Nurse Reinvestment Act, programs that offer people financial assistance to cover the costs of nursing education and training. Since the Nurse Reinvestment Act passed in 2002, the Senators have spearheaded the effort to fund these programs.

More specifically, the bill increases federal funding for scholarship and loan repayment programs for nurses who work in facilities with a critical shortage of nurses. The bill also provides funds to cancel education loans for nurses who agree to teach at schools of nursing. Last year, nursing schools turned away almost 16,000 qualified applicants to baccalaureate nursing programs alone because they did not have enough faculty. In Maryland, an estimated 1,850 qualified nursing students were not admitted to nursing programs during the 2003-2004 academic year. The reason most commonly cited for not admitting more students was lack of faculty.

In February, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that registered nursing will have the greatest job growth of all U.S. professions in the time period spanning 2002 – 2012. During this ten-year period, health care facilities will need to fill more than 1.1 million RN job openings in order to accommodate growing patient needs and to replace retiring nurses.

Earlier this year over 40 Senators, led by Senators Mikulski and Collins, wrote to the Appropriations Subcommittee that funds these nursing workforce development programs requesting $205 million for these programs in 2005. The House FY 2005 Labor, Health, and Human Services Appropriations bill and the President’s 2005 budget contain only a $5 million increase for these nursing programs. The next step is for the full Senate to consider S. 2810.

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