Wednesday, July 12

New Illinois legislative measures address nursing shortage and help retain forensic scientists          Send a link to a friend

[JULY 12, 2006]  SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich signed a new law Tuesday that will allow Illinois to recruit, train and retain nurses who will be critically needed to help provide quality health care to Illinois patients and meet the growing health care needs of Illinois' baby boomer generation. The legislation, first proposed during the governor's fiscal 2007 budget address, will increase the number of faculty available to train nurses, make it more affordable for nursing students to attend school and improve working conditions for nurses through a new Center for Nursing.

Senate Bill 931 was sponsored by Sen. Maggie Crotty, D-Oak Forest; Sen. Carol Ronen, D-Chicago; and Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie.

"Nurses are on the front lines of health care and have the most direct and continuing contact with patients," Blagojevich said. "As baby boomers grow older, Illinois faces the challenge of providing for their growing demands on the health care system while also making up for the retirement of a generation of nurses. This law will help us train more nurses to fill the gap."

The number of potential caregivers, including nurses, is projected to decrease 4.2 percent between 2000 and 2020, while the number of those who need care is projected to increase by 31 percent. All told, by 2020 Illinois could be facing a shortage of over 21,000 nurses. According to region-by-region numbers put together by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, the state currently has a nursing shortage of 7 percent (vacancies versus jobs filled), and that shortage is projected to grow to almost 8,000 registered nurses and 1,200 licensed practical nurses (per year, projected through 2010).

The governor's fiscal 2007 budget includes $3.5 million to launch important initiatives aimed at preventing a severe nursing shortage.

"Nurse educators are an important, if often unseen, link in our health care system," said Crotty. "By establishing this program we increase the instructors for nursing students who are currently turned away because there aren't enough classroom nurse educators. With this scholarship program, nurses can go back to school, teach nursing and open the nursing field to more students."

"This bill provides the necessary tools to address the nursing shortage in Illinois," said Ronen. "By providing educational incentives, we can hopefully encourage more Illinoisans to join the nursing profession."


"With this law, Illinois has made a firm commitment to the nursing profession," said Lang. "We are creating opportunities for nurse educators that this state desperately needs. Without the support of Governor Blagojevich and my colleagues in the General Assembly, Illinois would be facing a crisis in direct care of its residents."

"The Illinois Nurses Association commends Governor Blagojevich for his visionary leadership in signing this hallmark legislation that creates an Illinois Center for Nursing and provides scholarships, fellowships and grants to nurse educators," said Kathleen Perry, Ph.D., R.N. and president of the Illinois Nurses Association. "Increasing the number of nurse educators in Illinois' nursing programs means increased numbers of nurses will be available to meet the public's need for health care services. While this legislation is good for nurses, the real winners are the people in Illinois who need nursing care services."

"The legislation Governor Blagojevich is signing is critical to assure the public of nursing care. By creating a Center for Nursing the governor has provided a process to determine the work force needs of nurses in Illinois and hopefully prevent another nursing shortage in the future," said Gail Van Kannegan, A.P.N., N.P. and president of the Illinois Society for Advanced Practice Nursing. "A large part of the groundbreaking legislation is for the state to invest in nursing by providing nurse educator scholarships, grants and fellowships to encourage them to stay in school. More nursing educators will increase the number of nursing students educated and lead to improving the current nursing shortage. The Illinois Society for Advanced Practice Nursing applauds Governor Blagojevich for making the nursing profession a priority."

"The governor's multipronged approach to address the nursing shortage provides creative solutions involving nursing education, the source of more nurses. This bill does this through the formation of a Nursing Center, strategically enhanced nurse educator scholarships and loan repayments, grants for nursing schools to build capacity, and salary support fellowships for faculty. This crucial legislation will lead the way for strengthening the nursing work force at all levels, resulting in improved patient care and lower health care costs," said Joan L. Shaver, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N. and dean of the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Nursing.

The governor's proposal was developed after consultation with leaders in nursing education in Illinois. Administration officials met with teaching hospitals, accredited nursing schools and representatives of various nursing associations in the state. The legislation signed Tuesday will address the shortage of nurses in a number of ways:

  • Center for Nursing -- Establishes a center that will be responsible for assessing the current supply and demand for nurses in Illinois and developing a strategic plan to ensure that the state can train, recruit and retain the nurses that are needed. The newly created advisory board will work with nursing schools, hospitals and nurses from varied geographic regions and specialties to make recommendations for long-term systemic changes that may be needed.

  • Scholarships for nursing educators -- Creates a Nurse Educator Scholarship Program, to be administered by the Illinois Student Assistance Center. The program awards scholarships for nursing education students to cover tuition, fees and living expenses for training as nurse educators. In exchange, the newly trained educators must commit to teaching at an Illinois nursing school for at least five years.

  • Changes to existing nursing scholarships -- Amends the existing Nursing Education Scholarship law to allow merit, in addition to financial need, to be taken into consideration when determining recipients of the nursing scholarship. Students who have both financial need and the proven ability to meet the rigorous academic standards needed to complete nursing programs are more likely to complete their education and work in the nursing field.

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  • Nurse Educator Loan Repayment Program -- Creates the Illinois Nurse Educator Loan Repayment Program through the Illinois Student Assistance Center. The program allows current nurse educators to receive $5,000 in student loan forgiveness a year, for up to four years. For every year of student loan forgiveness they receive, they must agree to continue working as a nurse educator. To be eligible, a nurse educator must be a resident of Illinois and have worked for at least a year teaching in a nursing program in Illinois. This program will be up and running next year.

  • Competitive grant for nursing schools -- Establishes a competitive grant for nursing schools to increase the number of nurses graduating from Illinois nursing programs. The grants can be used for a number of purposes, including but not limited to student retention programs, increasing faculty, increasing clinical space, creation of an evening or weekend program, and tutoring programs for the national nursing licensing exam. The Illinois Board of Higher Education will administer the program.

  • Fellowships for nursing school faculty -- Establishes the Nurse Educator Fellowship Program, to be administered by the Illinois Board of Higher Education. The program will award fellowships, on a competitive basis, to supplement the salaries of nursing school faculty.

The legislation also contains an initiative that is part of the governor's comprehensive Prairie State DNA Institute plan to enable the state to do all forensic testing in its own labs. One of the biggest challenges the state faces when it comes to DNA testing is training and retaining enough forensic experts to work in its labs. The bill creates a scholarship program that would help cover the cost of graduate-level forensic science degrees at Illinois universities for students who agree to work in state labs for at least four years after graduation. Testing forensic samples at state facilities is both more efficient and more cost-effective, and it allows for better quality assurance.

Since 2003, Blagojevich has taken a broad array of actions to deal with the nursing shortage and improve the working conditions for Illinois nurses. The actions include these:

  • Professional license reform: Also included in the fiscal 2007 budget is a significant investment in technology and personnel to reduce the waiting time for nurses and other licensed professionals to obtain new licenses or renew current licenses. The department will implement the new licensing system in its Division of Professional Regulation, which issues more than 900,000 of the department's 1.2 million professional licenses. The new initiative will reduce application processing time for professional licenses from the current four to19 weeks to just one to four weeks -- an improvement of more than 400 percent. The initiative is expected to cost $1.5 million annually.

  • Critical Skills Shortage Initiative: The governor made a commitment in his 2005 State of the State speech to address the shortage of health care workers through his Critical Skills Shortage Initiative. Approximately $10 million is being invested statewide to ensure that every region of the state has a well-trained and equipped work force in the health care industry. Through an innovative approach that is currently being replicated by Indiana, local work force investment boards, area employers, economic development professionals, educators and service providers are developing individualized strategies to address local employment needs and to get more health care professionals into the work force.

  • Enhancing the Nursing Education Scholarship Program: The Nursing Education Scholarship Program has become more effective since additional funding was included in the reauthorization of the Nursing Practice Act, signed by Blagojevich in 2004. The act increased the percentage of license fees that are transferred into the scholarship program. In 2006, there will be $1.2 million -- an increase of $450,000 -- to provide approximately 150 students with financial assistance to pursue an associate degree in nursing, an associate degree in applied sciences in nursing, a hospital-based diploma in nursing, a baccalaureate degree in nursing, a graduate degree in nursing or a certificate in practical nursing.

  • Keeping nurses in Illinois: A new law enables advanced-practice nurses to be licensed in more than one specialty without having multiple graduate degrees as long as the nurses have the educational and clinical experience to be nationally certified. This encourages highly trained advanced-practice nurses to stay in Illinois by making it easier for them to advance in their careers.

  • Establishing a first-in-the-nation externship program: Nurses who are licensed under the laws of another state or territory of the U.S., primarily from Puerto Rico, who wish to practice in Illinois and are preparing to take the National Council Licensure Examination, are now allowed to work under the direct supervision of a registered professional nurse licensed in Illinois while they are enrolled in a course which prepares them for the licensure exam and acclimates them to nursing and health care delivery in our state. This increases diversity within the nursing profession and prepares nurses educated in a U.S. territory for practice in Illinois.

[News release from the governor's office]

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