Sen. Maria Collett, D-Montgomery, also a registered nurse, announces the COVID-19 Nursing Workforce Initiative, at the Capitol on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2021 (photo provided).
Pennsylvania nurses are among the frontline workers and first responders who were cheered on by their communities at the beginning of the statewide shutdown. But they were showing signs of burnout long before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
That’s why Sen. Maria Collett, D-Montgomery, also a registered nurse, spearheaded the COVID-19 Nursing Workforce Initiative, a plan to use $6.5 million in American Rescue Plan funds to support and retain nurses across the commonwealth.
Funded by the $370 million in federal funds allocated to Gov. Tom Wolf for “pandemic response,” the initiative will use $5 million for student loan relief, $1 million for apprenticeships and industry partnerships, and $500,000 for residency and mentorship programs. No further legislative action is needed for the initiative.
“When good nurses leave the workforce, the quality of patient care goes down,” Collett told reporters on Tuesday.
In a recent survey of 6,000 nurses conducted by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, 66 percent of participants said the pandemic has caused them to consider leaving the profession.
Ninety-two percent agreed that the pandemic has depleted nurses and shortened their careers. In 2015, the state Health Department released a report that said stress and burnout were the most common reason nurses said they planned to leave the profession.
“Since COVID, these problems have multiplied,” Collett added. “And while nurses certainly appreciate the outpouring of love and support they’ve seen from the community in the form of kind words, thank you signs, and social media posts highlighting healthcare heroes, they have earned far more than our well-intended sentiments over the past 18 months.”
The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, which administers financial aid programs, will create and manage the loan forgiveness program.
When it launches, eligible nurses — Pennsylvania residents who are licensed through the Department of State and began working at a qualifying facility before Dec. 31, 2021 — can apply for up to $7,500 in assistance to reduce outstanding loan debt, with a cap of $2,500 per year for three years.
The Department of Labor and Industry will operate the apprenticeship and partnership program to showcase new career opportunities in the nursing field. At least one new apprenticeship and one new industry partnership will target underrepresented populations.
The residency and mentorship program, managed by the Department of Human Services, will help expand the number of nurse residencies and mentoring programs in Pennsylvania hospitals. Funding, Collett said, will be prioritized in hospitals that serve or are located in low-income communities.
Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, described the initiative as a “policy shot in the arm” that will “reinvigorate” the nursing industry and healthcare infrastructure in Pennsylvania.
“This is an investment, but it is a downpayment,” Hughes, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, added.
The Wolf administration previously launched PAsmart, which focuses on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics career pathways. The nursing initiative will help bolster the career program, acting state Health Secretary Alison Beam said.
“Pennsylvania nurses have been instrumental to the commonwealth’s COVID-19 response, from bedside care and educating our communities, to supporting the commonwealth’s nation-leading vaccine distribution efforts,” Wolf said in a statement. “My administration is thrilled to help facilitate this initiative, which will not only give a well-deserved boost to nurses on the front lines of this pandemic but also help rebuild a strong workforce of future healthcare professionals.”
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