Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) was joined last Friday by Lieutenant Governor Jacqueline Coleman and several post-secondary education leaders to announce the Kentucky Healthcare Workforce Collaborative (KYHWC).
The $10 million initiative — part of House Bill 573 from the last legislative session — will provide direct grants to public colleges and universities that offer medical training programs in what are deemed “high-demand” areas, primarily in nursing and allied health professions.
KYHWC is funded through the State Fiscal Recovery Fund of the American Rescue Plan of 2021 to establish the initiative, which is administered by the Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE).
“As each state faces a health care worker shortage, the legislature has chosen to lead and be a model other states will seek to emulate,” Stivers said after the announcement. “The problem isn’t relative to Kentucky, nor is it something we can solve overnight, but with the funding authorized by the General Assembly and through the dedicated work we will see from my fellow Clay Countians, Aaron Thompson and Leslie Sizemore with CPE, we can have faith we have put our best foot forward.”
Dr. Thompson was president of CPE and participated in Friday’s launch of KYHWC.
“The collaborative is about looking at what we need to do holistically; it is about policymakers, practitioners and those who are educators,” Thompson said. “We can’t get to the point of understanding how to streamline all of this unless we are all at the same table. That’s what the collaborative is all about, but the collaborative cannot do it without resources, so I want to thank President Stivers and the legislature for the $10 million to get this started.”
The Kentucky Nurses Association estimates that by 2024 there will be a need for 16,000 additional nurses, on top of a current 12% to 20% shortfall of nursing staff in the state.
Coleman called it a “monumental task,” and that with this new program, colleges and universities will “be able to focus on healthcare pathways that align with the strongest job demand.” She also emphasized that most healthcare workers are women, and that they face even more hardships when pursuing educational and employment opportunities, something this initiative hopes to correct.
The Council on Postsecondary Education are addressing these issues through a two-pronged approach not only in educational development, but also from an economic development perspective, by focusing not only on ease of access to educational programs, but also funding for new and updated equipment, and increased advising, tutoring, professional development, and support services to aid in student retention.
Dr. Leslie Sizemore, a senior fellow for workforce development at CPE, outlined the next steps of KYHWC, particularly the expectations of higher education institutions that will be critical in the mission.
“We have been entrusted with $10 million to support our institutions of higher learning as they use innovative methods to move frontline health care students into the talent pipeline,” she said. “A swift and intentional response is necessary for this process and in order to succeed we need to hold these institutions to some non-negotiables.
“Funds are available following an approved plan for use. The plans will need to show partnership with local and regional health care sectors who will demonstrate their skin in the game; dedicated staff, resources, clinical education experiences for students. Institutions will show how they will provide wrap-around services for students, removing barriers, effectively weeding in students who were once weeded out.”
In addition to the $10 million in funding to support KYHWC, President Stivers and bill sponsor Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, were instrumental in enacting Senate Bill 10 (SB 10).
The bill was announced during a press conference on February 15, where Stivers, Mills and practicing health care professionals, Mon. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, and Sen. Donald Douglas, R-Nicholasville, gathered to outline the provisions in SB 10 and the impact on the state’s nursing shortage.
SB 10 was priority legislation to address issues placing strains on Kentucky’s health care system. Provisions of the bill removed arbitrary enrollment caps on nursing programs and restructured the Kentucky Board of Nursing to be more reflective of Kentucky’s geographical diversity and, most importantly, bolster the voices of nurses by requiring ten board members to be practicing nurses.
“These policy initiatives are thoughtful and measured approaches designed to meet the needs of the people of our state,” Stivers added. “I want to thank everyone involved, from my colleagues like Sen. Mills who carried SB 10, our health care professionals providing care for Kentuckians, and Dr. Thompson and Leslie Sizemore and all the folks at CPE who will see the vision of the Healthcare Workforce Collaborative through to its end goal.”