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Miles bill seeks to address health care worker shortage with regional approach

Bill Stephens

March 2nd, 2022

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Frankfort, Kentucky (March 1, 2022) – House Majority Caucus Chair Suzanne Miles filed legislation today that would create an innovative approach to the state’s healthcare worker shortage. The measure, HB 751, takes aim at the healthcare worker shortage with a regional effort that includes 18 western Kentucky counties. The bill is cosponsored by legislators from throughout the region and has the support of members from throughout the state.

“This bill is the result of an incredible public/private partnership between our region’s healthcare providers and education institutions, as well as businesses, local governments, and individuals,” Miles added. “They know firsthand what it takes to fill this shortage, and I’m glad to see them come together to provide a solution that could ultimately work across our commonwealth.”

HB 751 would establish the Commonwealth West Healthcare Workforce Innovation Center (CWHWIC) in Owensboro as a regional partnership aimed at creating a talent pipeline. The center itself would serve as a health education and training facility featuring hands-on learning opportunities.

“We must plan for the future now and proactively address the nursing and healthcare workforce shortages to ensure residents of western Kentucky have access to quality care, particularly in rural communities where there is a dire need,” said Mark Marsh, president and CEO of Owensboro Health. “The CWHWIC has the potential to shape the next generation of healthcare professionals and make western Kentucky a model for education and innovation.”

Under the provisions of HB 751, postsecondary, high school, and nontraditional students enrolled in public and private schools would partner with healthcare providers like Owensboro Health, as well as businesses and other public and private entities. The consortium of higher education institutions includes both public and private schools. The partnership would create regional learning opportunities, eliminating duplicate class offerings and streamlining training.

“We are excited to be a part of this unique public/private partnership.  This collaborative project provides the opportunity to create an innovative solution for addressing the healthcare workforce shortage across the commonwealth” added Dr. Scott Williams, Owensboro Community and Technical College President.

According to a membership poll released by the Kentucky Nurses Association in October, 73% of nurses polled said the driving factor behind their burnout and the overall workforce shortage was untenable patient loads and too few nursing staff. While the pandemic has caused some nurses to leave the workforce, the health care worker shortage predates Covid-19 and stems from a decrease in the number of students pursuing nursing degrees and an aging workforce. 61% of those who responded to the survey had more than 21 years of experience.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing notes that the shortage is national and attributes the fact that nursing school enrollment is not keeping up with demand. In addition, jobs in rural areas are historically more difficult to fill.

“We faced a nursing and healthcare worker shortage before the pandemic began. Like so many things, Covid made the problem worse with more people leaving the profession and fewer entering it. No one knows more about the problem than our hospitals and long-term care providers, and it makes sense to listen to them and support their efforts to solve that problem,” Miles said.

Under the provisions of HB 751, the legislature would provide a portion of the startup funds for the center, which would also receive funding from other public and private sources.

“This is an investment in our community,” Miles added. “While these students will likely make a career in communities across the state, many will remain right here in our region. This talent pipeline will provide the next generation of west Kentucky healthcare providers.”

A summary and the full text of HB 751 can be found on the legislature’s website at legislature.ky.gov. 

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