Congress approved $20 million for the Nurse Reinvestment Act last week as part of the 2003 omnibus spending bill, more than six months after President Bush signed the federal legislation to address the nation's critical nursing shortage.
The bill includes a total of $113.5 million for nursing programs, of which $20 million is new federal funding that will be used to try to attract new nurses to the field as part of the act. Bush signed the act into law last August (Aug. 5, 2002, p. 6), but Congress had not acted on funding until last week.
The American Nurses Association applauded the Senate last month for approving the $20 million. An ANA spokeswoman declined to comment on Bush's fiscal 2004 proposed budget, which includes $7 million for funding programs under the act.
Tom Nickels, senior vice president of federal relations at the American Hospital Association, however, said reducing funding for 2004 is a step in the wrong direction. "We feel very confident that the amount will increase in (fiscal) 2004" when a final budget is passed, he said.
Allocations for fiscal 2003, ending Sept. 30, include: advanced nurse education, $50.5 million; nursing workforce diversity, $10 million; nurse education and practice, $27 million; the nurse corps scholarship program, $20 million; geriatric nurse education, $3 million; and nurse faculty loan education repayment, $3 million.
Meanwhile last week, legislators introduced bills seeking to end mandatory overtime for nurses, saying it would improve patient care and stem the flow of nurses leaving the profession. A Senate bill was introduced by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.). Reps. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) and Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) introduced a companion bill in the House.
Under both proposals, nurses cannot be forced to work more than 12 hours in any 24-hour period and no more than 80 hours in a consecutive 14-day period except during a state of emergency declared by a federal or local government authority. Voluntary overtime is not affected.
"Improving conditions for nurses is an essential part of our ongoing effort to reduce medical errors, improve patient outcomes and encourage Americans to become and remain nurses," Kennedy said.
In an encouraging sign for the industry, a recent survey released by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing showed enrollment in entry-level baccalaureate programs in nursing increased by 8% in fall 2002 over the previous year, reversing several years of decline.
Nursing schools have formed partnerships with providers to address faculty shortages, lobbied for state and federal funds, and stepped up recruitment, according to the association. States including Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas have passed legislation to increase funding for nursing schools to expand programs.