Ducey approves grant program to increase nurse workforce

Last week, Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill that establishes several health care workforce grant programs with the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) and the Department of Health Services (ADHS), including the Arizona Nurse Education Investment Pilot Program (Nurse Program).

 

Get the latest state-specific policy intelligence for the health care sector delivered to your inbox.

 

The bill’s proponents have claimed that this is yet one of the solutions currently underway to address the state’s nursing shortage that has been exacerbated by the health care workforce burnout brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Nurse Program aims to increase the capacity of nursing education programs in Arizona “… by fostering collaboration among the health care community, educational community, and government entities.”

According to data cited by the Arizona Center for Rural Health (CRH), Arizona ranks in the top 5 states experiencing the most severe health care staffing shortages. As of 2020, the state had only 660-800 employed registered nurses per 100,000 people. It is expected to have a 23% growth in demand for specialized nurses, with 20,508 new openings, by 2025.

In a recent presentation for the Arizona Rural Health Conference, some experts from the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association (AzHHA) shed light on some of the nursing shortage’s adverse impacts to the state’s health care system. Not only does the quality of patient care suffer, as better nurse staffing ratios are associated with significantly lower mortality rates, but the cost of care rises as well. 

Nursing shortages impair a hospital’s ability to prepare for the next public health emergency. Many patient services are also cut as a result of nursing shortages, with many rural hospitals closing services such as obstetrics, and in some cases closing altogether. 

The Nurse Program will address the statewide nursing shortage by increasing the number of all levels of nurses graduating from Arizona’s nursing education programs from the number graduating in FY 2022, by the end of FY 2027. The $15 million in funding specified in the bill will go toward nursing programs at local public universities and community colleges.

The bill also allocates $27 million for student nurse clinical rotations, with $25 million specifically allocated for the expansion of preceptor training programs at health care institutions for nursing students and licensed or certified nurses. The funding will supplement existing programs. 

$500,000 is allocated for licensed preceptors, including allopathic and osteopathic physicians, advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), physician assistants (PAs), and dentists, to voluntarily precept graduate students. 

The bill garnered widespread support as it went through the legislative process, with the final passing vote on the House floor being 42-9. When the bill passed its final vote on June 23rd, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce came out with a statement of support for the bill as it neared signing.

“[HB 2691] is an investment in Arizona’s nursing workforce and an important step to ensuring a well-resourced health care system that meets the needs of our growing state,” the Chamber said in a tweet.

Upon the bill’s signing, several organizations, including Health System Alliance of Arizona (HSAAZ), voiced support as well.