Durbin, Lowey Introduce Legislation to Address Nationwide Nursing Shortage

As shortage grows, thousands of potential nurses are being turned away

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Citing a report by the United States Department of Health and Human Services that predicts the United States will face a shortage of more than one million nurses by 2020, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) today introduced legislation in the Senate - Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) will introduce companion legislation in the House next week – to address one of the major causes of the nationwide nursing shortage – an insufficient number of nurse educators. Last year, nursing colleges across the nation denied admission to nearly 50,000 qualified applicants because there were not enough faculty members to teach the students. The Nurse Education, Expansion, and Development (NEED) Act would provide grants to colleges and universities to improve their ability to educate nursing students.


“There is a tremendous amount of hope for the future of healthcare and the nearly three million nurses in our country are at the forefront. They are often the first to care for our children and grandchildren, our parents and other loved ones, but the number of nurses is not keeping pace with the growing healthcare needs of our nation,” said Durbin. “Every year, our colleges and universities turn away more and more aspiring healthcare professionals due to lack of faculty. Last year over 2,500 potential nursing students in Illinois were turned away. Our bill will strike at the heart of the nursing shortage by giving colleges the resources they need to train more nurses.”


“At a time when job loss and unemployment have affected so many sectors of our economy, it is inexcusable that funding and resource constraints at nursing schools are preventing us from filling gaps in the nursing workforce,” said Lowey. “In 2008, baccalaureate and graduate nursing schools in New York turned away 2,134 qualified applicants, 550 more students than in 2007. That is why I have introduced and supported the NEED Act since 2004. This legislation will help schools of nursing accommodate and train more qualified applicants so health care providers can hire the workforce they need.”


Durbin and Lowey noted that statistics paint a bleak a picture for the availability of nursing faculty now and into the future. Last year, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing surveyed more than 400 schools of nursing. They found that 63% of the schools reported vacancies on their faculty. An additional 17.8% said they were fully staffed but still needed more faculty to handle the number of students who want to be trained. It is expected that 200 to 300 doctorally prepared faculty will be eligible for retirement each year from 2005 through 2012, reducing nursing faculty while the need for qualified nurses continues to increase.


“Our schools of nursing are struggling to increase student capacity in the face of a severe nurse faculty shortage. Complicating the problem further, state budget cuts, a lack of clinical sites, and insufficient classroom space further inhibit schools from accepting all qualified students. Based on the historical success capitation grants offered nursing schools in the 1970s to reverse capacity barriers, the NEED Act of 2009 capitalizes on the program's effectiveness and updates the provisions for the new millennium,” said AACN President Fay Raines. “AACN applauds Senator Durbin and Congresswoman Lowey for introducing this bill and we are committed to working with him and Congress to see this important piece of legislation passed.”


The NEED Act would help ensure that nursing schools have the resources to teach and train a new generation of nurses and nurse educators by:


• Authorizing capitation grants (formula grants to schools based on the number of students enrolled) for schools of nursing to improve their ability to educate nursing students;


• Designating graduate, baccalaureate, and associate degree nursing programs eligible to receive grant funding to hire and retain new faculty, purchase educational equipment, enhance clinical laboratories, and repair and expand infrastructure -- the very problems preventing schools from enrolling more students;


• Requiring the Government Accountability Office to report to Congress on ways to increase the number of nurse faculty.


The following are among the more than twenty organizations that have endorsed today’s legislation: the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the American College of Nurse Practitioners, the American Nurses Association, the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric & Neonatal Nurses and the National League for Nursing.