The new budget also calls for massive support for nursing homes, a sector of healthcare that’s been hit especially hard throughout the pandemic. The budget calls for more than $500 million to enhance nursing home workforce development, the creation of a wage scale for certified nursing assistants, and direct payments to nursing homes to hire and retain care staff.
Since the pandemic began, nursing homes in Illinois have lost thousands of workers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of jobs in the state’s nursing and residential care facility industry has steadily dropped from more than 72,000 workers in March 2020 to 60,000 in December 2021. While other healthcare sectors, like physicians groups and dentist offices, have seen jobs rebound, nursing homes and hospitals lag behind.
To address shortages in frontline healthcare, Pritzker’s new budget also includes $25 million for the creation of a healthcare workforce pipeline program that will train new nurses, certified nursing assistants, respiratory therapists, emergency medical technicians and other high-demand positions.
"Our healthcare institutions and healthcare workers need help," Pritzker said in a statement. "Let’s recognize the burden our healthcare workers have borne and give them a much-needed reprieve."
The proposed PATH Workforce Program will help remove barriers to entering healthcare and support students in obtaining industry-recognized credentials and certificates. The program will target incumbent workers, new healthcare-interested students, and low-income, first-generation and minority students. Funding will also be available to help students in the program with things like transportation, child care, food vouchers and tutoring.
Financing for the Competitive Grant for Nursing Schools and Nurse Educator Fellowship programs will double as well. The budget proposes an increase of $214,000 for the Nurse Educator Loan Repayment Program and a $2 million increase for the Nursing Education Scholarship Program.
The funding for these nurse-centric programs was applauded by the Illinois Nurses Association, which issued a statement on Wednesday reading: “The Illinois Nurses Association supports Governor J.B. Pritzker’s plans to provide relief and financial support for important elements of the Illinois nursing work force … Nurses in Illinois have been serving patients in a pandemic that now enters its third year—nurses are stressed out, burned out, underpaid and underappreciated. We welcome the Governor’s support and are looking forward to working with him to help build the nursing workforce of the future.”
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Pritzker’s budget also recommends $4 million to expand Get Covered Illinois, the state’s Affordable Care Act health insurance marketplace. The funding will pay for consistent TV advertisements in English and Spanish statewide throughout the extended open enrollment period. An additional $2.5 million would go to the Illinois Department of Public Health to work with other education agencies to certify academic-based training programs.
IDPH would also receive $10 million under the new budget to fill 175 positions, including nursing home and assisted-living monitoring staff and epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists.
The newly announced funding for healthcare in Illinois is in addition to the nearly $1 billion the state has given to healthcare providers from federal COVID-19 response and recovery funds, according to the budget. The state also made an $80 million investment into safety net hospitals beginning in fiscal year 2020. An additional $800 million was provided through rate increases to hospitals, nursing homes, physicians and other providers within the last two years.
“Community health centers are foundational to Illinois’ public health infrastructure and have been instrumental in the fight against COVID-19," Ollie Idowu, president and CEO of the Illinois Primary Health Care Association, said in a statement. "We are heartened by the governor’s vision for improving Illinois’ fiscal position so that we are poised to make the investment necessary to strengthen our health care system and bolster underserved communities."
This story first appeared in our sister publication, Crain's Chicago Business.