Beshear declares emergency to help get more students into nursing schools to relieve state’s ‘dire’ shortage of nurses

Nurse Cydney Kanis at Baptist Health Lexington (Photo by Alex Slitz, Lexington Herald-Leader)

Kentucky Health News

Gov. Andy Beshear declared an emergency Thursday, allowing the state to take special measures to educate and license more nurses.

Beshear said that even before the pandemic hit, Kentucky didn’t have enough nurses, and now the situation is “dire.” His executive order declares that’s an emergency, since the state remains in the midst of a deadly global pandemic.
“We are operating 12% to 20% short of needed nursing volume, and looking ahead, our state’s projected to need more than 16,000 additional nurses by 2024,” he said. “This threatens not only the health of patients, but the entire health-care delivery system. We’ve got to do things a little bit differently to make sure we get the results we need at the time that we need them the most.”
The Kentucky Nurses Association projects that the state will need more than 16,000 additional nurses by 2024, to replace those who will retire or leave the profession, as many have during the pandemic.
A KNA survey of 850 nurses in October found that one-fourth of them said it was likely or extremely likely that they would leave their job in the next three months, and 16% said they were likely to leave nursing.

The order will help Kentucky nursing schools enroll more students by requiring the state Board of Nursing to approve requests for enrollment increases for schools that show sufficient resources to handle more students.

The order also requires schools to report vacant student seats to the board each month, and the board to post them online, allowing schools without vacancies to refer applicants to schools with open seats.

Kelly Jenkins, the nursing board’s executive director, said “I want to thank the governor for listening to the voices of nurses.”

The order requires nursing schools to send a list of faculty needed to reach full enrollment to the board, Beshear’s office and the state Council on Postsecondary Education. It allows schools that want to open new campuses to do so much more quickly, as long as they have sufficient resources.

The order allows nurses who are licensed in other states to come to Kentucky to practice during the emergency, and creates an advisory committee of people with experience in education, health care and nursing, to propose other solutions for addressing the nursing shortage.

Beshear also indicated that his budget proposal to the legislature next month will include measures to attract and retain nurses, including a loan-forgiveness or scholarship program for those who agree to stay in Kentucky for a number of years.

The Democratic governor already included nurses who work throughout the pandemic in his proposal to use federal relief money to pay bonuses to essential workers. Asked how he thinks the Republican-run legislature will respond, he said, “This isn’t about process, this isn’t about party. This is about the people that have kept us alive, kept us safe, kept us healthy, kept us fed, kept us safely in our home with our lights and our heat on during this pandemic. Saying no to this program is saying no to them.”
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