State House passes bill to address healthcare worker shortage

The Arizona House last week passed HB 2691, a bill to increase the amount of healthcare workers in the state through education and workforce program grants.

The bill appropriates $42.5 million a year starting in fiscal year 2023 through fiscal year 2025 to the Department of Health Services and is divided between nurse education, nurse clinical rotations, licensed nurse training, and a preceptor grant program. 

Arizona is experiencing one of the top-5 most severe hospital staffing shortages in the U.S. The shortage existed prior to COVID-19, but has been exacerbated by the pandemic, with increased employee burnout and nurse retirements and not enough properly trained new nurses to replace them. 

According to the American Association of College of Nursing, more than 80,000 qualified degree-seeking applicants in 2019 were turned away from educational institutions because of nursing faculty shortages, lack of clinical training sites and supervisors, and budget constraints. 

The bill additionally allocates $5 million a year to the state’s Medicaid program from fiscal years 2023 to 2025 for behavioral health workforce training in Maricopa and Navajo County Community Colleges

“At the core of healthcare is its workforce,” bill sponsor Rep. Joanne Osborne, R-Goodyear, said. “We are struggling in Arizona and need to take major steps to filling our nursing pipeline.” 

Kathy Busby, a representative from the Arizona Nurses Association, said there is high demand in the state for nursing education. 

“We have waiting lists for nursing school. Over 2,200 on the list in Maricopa County and over 600 in rural counties who could qualify but can’t get in,” she said. 

Robin Shephard, division vice president and chief nurse executive for Dignity Health, said the nursing need in her company is acute.

“I have never seen the harsh toll of the nursing shortage that is being exacted in our profession until this year,” she said. “At Dignity Health, we approximate that we will need to hire 1,300 nurses per year for the next five years to keep pace with Arizona’s population growth and to replace nurses that are either retiring or leaving the profession.” 

The bill is supported by a broad coalition of the health care, higher education and business communities, including the Health System Alliance of Arizona, the Arizona Board of Regents, and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry. 

The bill passed the House 44-15 and now heads to the Senate.

Taylor Hersch

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