HHS last week announced a series of federal grants last week totaling more than $30 million to help ease the national nursing shortage. Nursing organizations welcomed the effort but said they wanted Congress to provide even more funding.
Mandated by a 1998 law that provides federal support for nursing education programs, this fiscal year HHS will disperse a total of $82.4 million for nurse programs, a 7.6% percent increase from 2001. In December 2001 the House passed the Nurse Reinvestment Act, sponsored by Rep. Michael Bilirakis (R-Fla.), which would create new funding to encourage more people to enter the field. The bill awaits approval from the Senate.
"We are interested in creating new programs to meet the emerging nursing shortage in addition to funding programs that were in existence in 2001," said Erin McKeon, associate director of government affairs for the American Nurses Association.
But on the front lines every little bit helps, said Kay Sanders, a nurse and director of Texas Wesleyan University's nurse anesthesia graduate program. The university received more than $250,000 from the HHS grants.
HHS' Health Resources and Services Administration has dispersed more than $22 million to increase the number of nurses with advanced degrees and to improve elder care, said HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson.
"If more people don't choose careers in nursing, it will become more and more difficult for patients to get quality healthcare," Thompson said. "Today's awards will make it easier for many bright students to pursue a rewarding career in nursing."
Texas Wesleyan's program has received other federal grants, but never this substantial, Sanders said. While it is a one-time shot in the arm for current students, the grants could encourage more applicants if more grants are made in the future, she said.
HHS has designated an additional $8 million to repay student loans of clinical-care nurses who agree to work two to three years in designated public or not-for-profit health facilities facing a critical shortage of nurses.