SPRINGFIELD – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today applauded the Illinois General Assembly for passing legislation that will allow Illinois to recruit, train and retain nurses that will be critically needed to help provide quality health care to Illinois patients, and to meet the growing health care needs of Illinois’ aging baby boomer generation. The legislation, first outlined in the Governor’s 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, sponsored by Senators Maggie Crotty (D – Oak Forest) and Carol Ronen (D – Chicago), and Representative Lou Lang (D – Skokie), passed final legislative action in the Senate today, after being unanimously passed in the House, and is now headed to the Governor’s desk for his signature.
“Well-trained and committed nurses are essential in our ongoing effort to ensure access to health care for all Illinoisans. As the baby boomers grow older, we face the challenge of providing for their growing demands on the healthcare system,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “Nurses are on the frontlines in providing care. It is time to train and develop a new generation of nurses so that patients can count on the high quality of care they're entitled to."
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 (DCEO), the state currently has a nursing shortage of 7 percent (vacancies vs. 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).
“With passage of SB 931, we have resolved one of the primary causes of our nursing shortage -- a lack of nursing faculty and training venues,” said Sen. Ronen. “By providing grants to nursing schools, we can ensure that quality nurses are produced for the state of Illinois.”
“Passage of this bill demonstrates that Illinois has made a firm commitment to the nursing profession,” said Rep. Lang. “With this legislation, 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 is pleased to support Governor Blagojevich’s Nursing Initiative. His and the General Assembly’s support of nursing legislation these past two years demonstrates their understanding of the danger of the growing nursing shortage in Illinois,” said Kathleen M. Perry RN PhD, President, Illinois Nurses Association (INA). “The INA has worked hard to demonstrate that an investment in the nursing profession is an investment that will produce positive health dividends for the citizens of Illinois.”
“Nurses are leaving nursing every day to a different career that’s less demanding, less stressful, pays more and gives them their life back,” said Gail Van Kannegan, APN, NP, a family nurse practitioner at Quincy Medical Group and president of the Illinois Society for Advanced Practice Nursing. “Governor Blagojevich understands that increasing the enrollment in nursing schools is not as easy as opening up the doors. There needs to be space available and there needs to be qualified instructors to do the teaching. This legislation will allow those needs to be filled.”
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 today will address the shortage of nurses in a number of ways:
Nursing Center – establishes a nursing 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.
Nursing Educator Scholarships – creates a Nurse Educator Scholarship Program, to be administered by the IL Student Assistance Center (ISAC). 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.
Nurse Educator Loan Repayment Program – creates the IL Nurse Educator Loan Repayment Program through ISAC. 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 program will be administered by the IL Board of Higher Education.
Fellowships for Nursing School Faculty – establishes the Nurse Educator Fellowship Program, to be administered by the IL 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 allows for better quality assurance.
Since 2003, Governor Blagojevich has taken a broad array of actions to deal with the nursing shortage and improve the working conditions for Illinois nurses. They include:
Critical Skills Shortage Initiative (CSSI): 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 (CSSI). Approximately $10 million is being invested statewide to ensure that every region of the state has a well-trained and equipped workforce in the health care industry. Through an innovative approach that is currently being replicated by Indiana, Local Workforce 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 workforce.
Enhancing the Nursing Education Scholarship Program: The Nursing Education Scholarship Program has increased its effectiveness with additional funding included in the reauthorization of the Nursing Practice Act, signed by Gov. 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.
Streamlining the license process: Through a coordinated effort by the Governor’s Office, the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) and the Illinois State Police (ISP), 800 nurse-licensing applications were reviewed and approved since the Governor’s announcement in the State of the State address. Since 2001, Illinois has required nursing professionals to submit to a background check as part of the application process. A backlog of more than 1,800 applications had built up since the law was enacted. Both IDFPR and ISP have developed comprehensive guidelines for dealing with licensed fingerprint vendors to ensure that backlogs do not recur in the future.
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 they 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.