HHS invests $100 million to bolster nursing workforce

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The Health and Human Services Department’s Health Resources and Services Administration will distribute $100 million to select universities and health systems to help expand the nursing pipeline with more faculty and training opportunities.

The investment comes amid industrywide staffing struggles and declining nursing school enrollment due to a lack of qualified nursing professors. The industry is also bracing for the release of a Biden administration nursing home staffing rule that will dictate patient-to-clinician ratios at skilled nursing facilities and require increased efforts to hire staff.

The funds will be split among dozens of recipients nationwide across five different program areas. “We’re doing this because we got marching orders directly from President Biden who said, ‘This is unacceptable,’” HHS secretary Xavier Becerra said at a media briefing Thursday.

The agency is especially focused on addressing burnout, bottlenecks in nursing education and the lack of mental health providers, Becerra said.

More than $34 million will go to 56 universities and health systems that will participate in a recently announced advanced nursing education workforce program. The program will offer tuition assistance and support for nurses to receive training on primary care delivery, maternal healthcare and other areas where gaps in care persist

Another $26.5 million will be split among 88 universities that will participate in a new nurse faculty loan program.

In 2022, nearly 80,000 qualified, eligible applicants were rejected by nursing programs because of a nationwide nursing faculty shortage, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

“It’s tough to lure licensed practitioners to teach because they lose so much income,” Becerra said.

To address this, HRSA will provide low-interest loans to nurses who want to study to become faculty members, HRSA administrator Carole Johnson said during the media briefing. The agency will pay off up to 85% of the loans, plus interest, if recipients work as full-time nurse faculty members for four years after graduation, she said.

“We think with this investment, we could produce 3,000 more faculty,” Johnson said.

The remaining funds will be allocated to universities and academic medical centers for three new programs—residency and fellowship program, a program to support the training of registered nurses and a nurse anesthetist training program.

The funding is the latest effort in HHS’ Health Workforce Initiative, which was announced in July  and aims to increase staffing through training, scholarships, loan repayment and well-being programs.

In the past year, a pediatric specialty loan repayment program has been created and $13 million awarded to universities focused on growing the number of nursing students trained in acute-care settings and supporting clinical nursing faculty.

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