Group Seeks Money for Nursing Education

Group Seeks Money for Nursing Education

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah, like the rest of the nation, is suffering from a nursing shortage.

There are numerous young women and men who would like to help fill that gap, but they can't get into nursing schools.

To beef up the state's six public-education nursing programs, a coalition of deans and nursing advocates -- called the Utah Nursing Leadership Forum -- is lobbying the Legislature for $6.5 million for the second year in a row.

The group's request earlier this year garnered just $75,000. That went for the nursing program at Dixie State College in St. George.

"Last year we had success in terms of laying the groundwork and making the case," said Kim Wirthlin, the legislative specialist with the University of Utah Health Sciences. "We need to convince legislators that this is an issue that can't be ignored for another year.

"We have to find revenues even in a bad year because this has an impact on patients and, frankly, this has a huge economic impact. We have well-paying jobs that are just waiting out there," Wirthlin said.

The Utah Hospitals and Health Systems Associations will push hard for the increase.

"We support the proposal 100 percent, but we're also aware of the financial constraints," said Jill Vickory, the group's spokeswoman. "There's a real interest and concern on the part of some legislators. We might have to get creative in finding the money. We'll be meeting with groups this summer to try to work something out."

Hundreds of nursing applicants are turned away from the state's nursing programs each year.

The $6.5 million would be earmarked for expanding nursing education programs and would be split among the schools. With increased state funding for faculty, the schools could increase their class size to almost double the number of nursing graduates, which was 571 last year. An additional 139 graduated from private-education programs at Brigham Young University and Westminster College.

"Like everyone everywhere, Utah suffers from the shortage, but Utah has an advantage others don't -- lots of qualified applicants," said Becky Richards, the president of the Utah Nurses Association. "All nursing programs in the state turn away qualified applicants."

The University of Utah and BYU are the only colleges in the state that educate faculty. Even if the Legislature approves the funding, administrators say, there might not be enough trained teachers to fill the immediate needs.

Utah trails only Nevada and California in terms of the severity of the nursing shortage, according to the Utah Nurses Association.

The situation is expected to get only worse over the next 10 years, as more nurses in the baby boomer generation near retirement and new facilities open, The average age for nurses is 47, and many retire in their early to mid-50s, Wirthlin said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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