SB147: Bill addressing Utah nursing shortage awaits governor’s signature

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Nursing students Lindee Rock, Kristina Hollister and Torrie Robinson practice nursing skills on a child manikin. SB147 would create a process for the Utah legislature to fund approved nursing programs. (Jeff Peery)

A bill that will provide a process for the Legislature to help fund approved nursing programs awaits signature from Gov. Herbert.

Utah does not have enough nurses to care for its population, and the shortage is projected to increase each year, according to the Utah Department of Health.

Sen. Ann Millner, R-Ogden, is seeking to address Utah’s nursing shortage by sponsoring SB147.

“As we started working through this issue there was lots of concern … that we really understand what the workforce demand is, how it varies across the state, and also at what level of nursing,” Millner said. “There is a difference between the associate degree versus the baccalaureate.”

SB147 will require the Medical Education Counsel to include regional reports on the nursing work force and education programs in their yearly report. Millner said much of the nursing focus is centered on the Wasatch area, but that efforts to improve nursing in rural Utah areas would benefit the state.

“We’re really focusing our resources on where the biggest gaps are,” Millner said.

SB147 will require nursing proposals to go to higher education appropriation committee for consideration in prioritizing which programs receive funding and will require on-going reports evaluating the impact of those Utah nursing programs that receive funding.

The bill will also establish criteria to ensure that the state funds high-quality nursing programs. The criteria will include high graduation rates, cost effectiveness of the program, alignment with region needs and industry contributions.

“With nursing, you can’t do nursing programs unless you’ve got expanded clinical space,” Millner said. “Industry has to be a partner in this effort. We need to know if we are funding these programs that they are providing a commitment.”

Kathleen Kaufman, co-chair of the Utah Nursing Association, said SB147 would increase the number of nurses in rural Utah areas.

“In rural Utah we have a huge problem … attracting and retaining nurses from Urban areas such as the Wasatch front,” Kaufman said.

Many students from urban areas earn nursing baccalaureate degrees from colleges in Salt Lake or Provo, Kaufman said. These nurses often stay in urban areas to work after graduation, leaving rural areas in desperate need of well-trained nursing professionals.

Kaufman said that SB147 would allow more students from rural areas to earn nursing degrees by funding nursing programs throughout Utah.

Alan Ormsby, Utah director of American Association of Retired Persons, said the bill would address the medical needs of retired individuals and support the future of Utah nurses.

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