Editorial: $50M request could ease nursing shortage - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: $50M request could ease nursing shortage

EDITOR’S NOTE: The original editorial contained incorrect information; this editorial has been updated and corrected.

The New Mexico House on Thursday took a strong first step toward addressing a nursing shortage in the state.

The $8.5 billion budget plan it approved included $30 million to create faculty endowments to pay for professors of nursing. That was part of a two-point proposal from a coalition of nurses and educators to inject $50 million into an expansion of nursing programs in New Mexico. The other part of the plan was to create a $15 million grant program that nursing schools could tap to get more students in the nursing pipeline.

The Legislature had already transferred $15 million in American Rescue Plan money to the state Higher Education Department for such a grant program during last December’s special session. But instead of authorizing the full $15 million to be spent in the coming fiscal year, the House-approved budget only doles out $5 million; what the Legislative Finance Committee calls one year’s worth of funding. The remaining $10 million would be doled out over the following two years.

Considering the urgency of the state’s nursing shortage, the Senate should consider allowing the full $15 million to be spent in 2022-23.

New Mexico faces a shortage of 6,200 registered nurses, according to a health care workforce report issued by the University of New Mexico last year. The number of nurses practicing in New Mexico fell by 14% in a recent four-year period, from about 18,200 nurses in 2017 to 15,600 in 2020, according to the Board of Nursing.

Lillian Montoya, president and CEO of Christus St. Vincent health system, said hospitals throughout the country are competing for nurses. Hundreds of hospital beds in the state, she told the Senate Finance Committee last week, are open because there’s no one to staff them.

A key solution, according to the coalition, is to expand the capacity of training programs with a key understanding that nurses tend to work where they’ve been trained.

Interestingly, reports of COVID-related burnout haven’t translated into falling interest in nursing professions. College leaders who spoke before the Senate panel last week said they’re already at capacity but could expand to handle more students if extra funding is approved.

In other words, there’s demand for more nursing education and there’s a demand for more nurses. The Senate should consider how $15 million in grants available this year could accelerate capacity growth, versus the $5 million in the House budget.

The coalition pointed to data showing nurses usually stay to work where they’re trained, making it all the more important to expand nursing programs throughout the state.

The $15 million request could pay for hiring more nursing faculty, increasing faculty salaries to retain educators and reducing the cost of clinical training for students. With 14 of 21 nursing programs already prepared to apply for funding this summer, that $5 million won’t go far.

“There’s no way out of this crisis other than growing our own nurses,” said Linda Siegle, a lobbyist for the New Mexico Nurses Association.

Sen. George Muñoz, a Gallup Democrat and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, had it right when he opined the state should also consider free tuition and other incentives for nursing students. For now, we urge the Senate to authorize the $30 million approved by the House for endowed faculty teaching positions in nursing programs as well the full $15 million in grant spending for 2022-23.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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