Serving Franklin County, WA

Legislature considering bill to address nurse shortage

Nursing is one of the most noble and trusted professions in our society. Just ask any patient who has made a trip to a hospital or had a doctor's appointment. Nurses perform many tasks – from menial to absolutely crucial – and all are key to a patient's well-being.

Unfortunately, as is the case in many other states, there is a serious nursing shortage in Washington.

A report by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing warns the U.S. will need 200,000 more registered nurses in 10 years and saw an unprecedented net loss of 100,000 nurses from 2020 to 2021. Those numbers should concern all of us.

The problem is especially acute in our state. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports Washington has 8.11 nurses for every 1,000 residents, compared to a national average of 9.19 per 1,000.

Two problems are causing the nursing shortage in Washington: The number of nurses retiring, and we don't have enough nursing students in the pipeline to overcome the rate of attrition.

The lack of nursing students should not be confused with a lack of interest by students. The "Washington State Nursing Education Trend Report," produced by the Washington Center for Nursing last April, found about 3,200 qualified applicants are turned away each year from Washington institutions (two-thirds at the community-college level and one-third at four-year institutions).

This problem must be addressed soon. If the nurse shortage worsens, it could have a real negative impact on the health or even the lives of patients who visit hospitals or medical clinics, or people who live in senior homes or long-term care facilities.

I have introduced a proposal in the state Senate that would help address Washington's nursing shortage. Senate Bill 5582 aims to increase the number of nurses in the state by reducing barriers and expanding educational opportunities in that field.

SB 5582 calls for the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) to develop a plan to train more nurses with education opportunities beginning in high school, and it would establish more nursing programs at community and technical colleges. It also would push to expand or create programs that increase capacity to train nurses at the Bachelor of Nursing level.

Crucially, this bipartisan proposal also would create a pilot project connecting those high-school students in training to become certified nursing assistants with understaffed rural hospitals. Doing this would help address nursing workforce shortages while promoting nursing careers in rural hospitals.

This legislation also would expand training opportunities for rural and underserved students, and it would direct the SBCTC to develop an online curriculum for students to earn a licensed practical nurse (LPN) credential.

The nursing shortage is especially being felt in rural communities in our state. The lack of nurses in rural hospitals is forcing patients to drive long distances to see a nurse and receive treatment. If this bill becomes law, it can help ensure there will be enough nurses in rural hospitals.

SB 5582 was approved on Feb. 8 by the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee. It received a public hearing in the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Feb. 18.

The state Employment Security Department recently reported nursing is the occupation most in demand by employers in our state. This bill is a good way to encourage more people to go into this important and respected profession.

- Sen. Jeff Holy, R-Cheney, serves the 6th Legislative District. Holy is ranking Republican on the Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee.


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