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UA could get $4 million for nursing

By Andrea Kelly
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, February 17, 2005
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PHOENIX - In an attempt to reduce the statewide nursing shortage, legislators are asking for $4 million annually for the next five years to supplement nursing education programs throughout the state.

A bill based on the recommendations of an Arizona Board of Regents Health Science Input Group would expand nursing programs at universities and community colleges, with the goal of doubling the number of nursing graduates annually by 2010.

The money would be used to fund more faculty positions so more students could complete the programs each year.

In 2003, 756 qualified students who applied to nursing schools throughout the state were turned down because there simply was not enough room for them in the universities and community colleges, said Connie Harmsen, chief executive officer of Banner Estrella Medical Center in Phoenix.

Harmsen said the shortage of nurses is due to the rapidly growing Arizona population and the capacity of the nursing programs.

She said about 1,000 students graduate from nursing programs each year, and Arizona is 48th in the country of per-capita nurses, or the number of nurses compared to the state population.

In 2000, the state health care system needed 17 percent more nurses to meet demands, Harmsen said. If nursing education continues as is, by 2010 the number could escalate to 25 percent short of the number of nurses hospitals need and can afford to hire, she said.

Kristen Boilini, of the Arizona Community Colleges Association, said the board's Health Science Input Group figured out that faculty funding would help double the number of graduates.

"Nursing is the single most expensive program," Boilini said.

The money allocated by the bill would be used proportionately for universities and community colleges, based on how many students graduate at the end of this academic year.

Sen. Jake Flake, R-Snowflake, said he has visited many rural and urban hospitals and the No. 1 problem in all of them was a lack of nurses. Flake said this surprised him, because he thought lack of funding would be the top issue, but, overwhelmingly, it was lack of nurses.

Because of this, Flake said he understood the needs of nursing programs and supported the bill.

Boilini said community colleges educate about 70 percent of nursing graduates in the state, which would mean they would receive about $2.8 million each year to be divided between the schools offering nursing education.

The money would be designated solely for increasing faculty and teaching resources to educate and graduate more nurses each year.

Christine Brides, a student in Maricopa County, is one of the more than 700 students on the waiting list hoping to be admitted to a nursing program.

Brides said she earned a 4.0 grade point average and works as a certified nurse's assistant. She said she has met all of the prerequisites for nursing school but has been told that her wait could be up to two years before she is admitted to nursing classes.

Others who are admitted, Brides said, make sacrifices of time and money to take advantage of the classes.

"Many students drive over an hour to be in a (nursing) program," Brides said as she encouraged the Senate Higher Education committee to pass the bill.

Brides said once students meet all of the prerequisites for a nursing program, they are put on a waiting list and admitted by lottery.

The money would come to schools from the Nursing Education Demonstration Project Fund, which would be fueled by state and federal appropriations and any grant funds schools received.

The funds could not be reduced from $4 million each year, and the funding would stop at the end of June 2010.

SB1294 would allow the funds to be used "to pay for salaries, benefits, training and related expenses and operational costs necessary to increase the number of qualified nursing education faculty members teaching in nursing degree programs."

The bill passed the Senate Higher Education committee yesterday and awaits passage at a full Senate hearing before heading to the Arizona House of Representatives and then the governor's office.

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