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House bill focuses on eliminating nursing shortage in Indiana

Schools training the next batch of nurses are about 1,350 graduates short each year of what's needed.

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana lawmakers are trying to help ease the severe nursing shortage in our state.

A bill now headed for a full vote in the House aims to boost the number of nurses entering the workforce by creating more flexibility in how they are trained.

As the battle against COVID continues, health care heroes on the front lines are badly in need of a fresh platoon. Indiana's nursing shortage, exacerbated by the pandemic, is now a crisis.

"We have a workforce of about 9,000 nurses at all of our sites of care across the state. We are looking for about 1,500 more to join our team," said IU Health Executive Vice President and Chief Nursing Executive Jason Gilbert.

One of the problems, though - schools training the next batch of workers are about 1,350 graduates short each year of what's needed.

Schools like Ivy Tech Community College say they need relaxed state regulations to get more nursing students into the pipeline and onto the job. Right now, they're actually turning students away.

"Every year in this state there are hundreds of qualified applicants who want to be nurses who are turned away because of these limitations," Gilbert said.

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"This year, we had 1,700 spots for nurses in our program. We had to turn over 300 students away who wanted to get into the program, who were qualified to get in the program, but we had no space," said Ivy Tech Vice President of Public Affairs Mary Jane Michalak. "We don't have enough faculty to teach the sections and we don't have enough spots in the clinical setting to place students"

House Bill 1003 aims to fix that by removing current barriers and adding flexibility to who schools can hire and how students get trained.

Representative Ethan Manning, R-District 23, sponsored the bill, which passed unanimously out of committee on Wednesday. It now heads to the full House for a vote.

"We're allowing our nursing programs to grow at faster rates," Manning explained. "Currently, they're limited to growing by 25% in a single year. We're letting them grow at any rate they deem appropriate to try and get more nurses in our workforce pipeline. So what we're doing is really trying to address some bottlenecks in the system."

The bill would let schools like Ivy Tech increase enrollment, hire more part-time faculty (currently state regulations limit the number of adjunct faculty in favor of more full-time faculty) and let students do more simulations for clinicals.

Credit: Ivy Tech
Nursing students in class at Ivy Tech Community College.

"Simulation is just like the hands-on, but it's using high-tech equipment," Michalak said. "Nothing replaces a hands-on experience in the hospital, but these simulations that we use are very high-tech, very advanced and they can give students really good hands-on experience prior to getting in the hospital setting."

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For Ivy Tech, it's a two-pronged approach: flexibility and funding.

The school just received an $8.75 million grant from IU Health to boost admissions by 600 nursing students a year by 2025. It's all meant to make sure patients in need of care have the nurses to provide it.

"This grant really endeavors to help Ivy Tech expand their enrollment through faculty recruitment, through more equipment," Gilbert said. "This is an investment in the future of our nursing workforce. This helps to enhance and expand the profession."