Bill would tap American Rescue Plan dollars for nursing scholarships

Rural Health
Small Towns

By Eric Galatas, Public News Service (Nebraska) 

Nebraska lawmakers are set to hear a measure Friday which would tap unspent federal COVID relief dollars to help address what some are calling a health-professional staffing crisis.

Legislative Bill 1091 would invest $5 million in scholarships for residents who agree to work in the state as licensed practical nurses (LPNs) or certified nursing assistants (CNAs) for at least two years.

Melissa Florell, a registered nurse and educator, believes the bill should be amended to include scholarships for people seeking nursing degrees.

"There are nine counties in Nebraska that don't have any registered nurses right now, and there are four counties that only have one," Florell reported. "Our Center for Nursing projects a significant shortage of registered nurses in the coming years, and that was pre-COVID."

Registered nurses, LPNs and CNAs play critical roles in keeping the doors open in rural health-care organizations and at long-term care and assisted-living facilities, filling a need likely to increase because of the state's aging population.

If amended to include registered nurses, Florell argued the bill would be a good first step to ensure there will be enough skilled workers taking care of friends, families and neighbors for years to come.

Rural Nebraska has faced challenges to health care for decades, and makes up a majority of the state's health-professional shortage areas.

Tim Mussack, senior policy associate at the Center for Rural Affairs, said now is a great opportunity to use some of the remaining American Rescue Plan money to ensure all residents have access to care.

"We continue to see rural hospital closures," Mussack observed. "And certain professions such as mental-health practitioners or OB-GYNs are just completely absent from substantial portions of our state, mostly in rural areas."

Florell added scholarships are essential to bringing more nurses and other professionals into the health-jobs pipeline, because degree and certificate programs are costly.

"That cost of going back to school would be a barrier," Florell emphasized. "And any time we can reduce barriers for someone who is interested in being a nurse, I think we have to take the opportunity to do that."

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