CHICAGO – First Lady Patricia Blagojevich today rallied with the Illinois Nurses Association to kick-off National Nurses Week in Illinois and highlight Governor Rod R. Blagojevich’s efforts and accomplishments to recruit, train and retain nurses in Illinois. The kick-off event began as dozens of nurses and health care advocates marched from the Illinois Nurses Association offices to the James R. Thompson Center in downtown Chicago, and after key legislation passed the General Assembly that will help reduce the nursing shortage in Illinois.
“Nurses play a critical role as we work hard to help make sure Illinois residents get the best possible health care,” said First Lady Patricia Blagojevich. “Nurses are on the frontline of the health care system and it’s crucial that we’re able to recruit and retain more nurses in order to address the health care needs of all Illinois patients. The legislation just passed by the Illinois General Assembly will help us achieve reduce the nursing shortage and train new generations of nurses across the state.”
The Blagojevich Administration has taken a number of critical steps to address the current shortage in the state’s nursing industry. Estimates suggest that at the current pace, Illinois’ nurse shortage is expected to reach 21,000 by 2020. In his 2006 Budget Address, Governor Blagojevich outlined landmark legislation designed to help Illinois recruit and retain nursing professionals to provide quality health care to Illinois patients, and to meet the growing health care needs of the state’s aging baby boomer generation.
The legislation, which passed the Illinois General Assembly on Thursday and is headed to the Governor’s desk for his signature, will increase the number of faculty available to train nurses, make it more affordable for nursing students to attend school, improve working conditions for nurses through a new Center for Nursing, and establish competitive grants for nursing schools to increase the number of nurses graduating from Illinois nursing programs, among other things.
Senate Bill 931, sponsored by State Senators Maggie Crotty (D-Oak Forest) and Carol Ronen (D-Chicago) and State Representative Lou Lang (D-Skokie) stems from consultations undertaken by the Governor with leaders in nursing education in Illinois, including teaching hospitals, nursing schools and representatives of various nursing associations.
“National Nurses Week is a time when the Illinois Nurses Association annually hosts an event to honor our profession, our colleagues, and our friends,” said Kathleen Perry, PHD, RN, President of the Illinois Nurses Association. “This year’s theme exemplifies the role of registered nurses as the critical tie to safe, quality patient care. We, at INA, are proud to be a leading voice in publicly recognizing and acknowledging nurses and their dedication and advocacy.”
National Nurses Week is celebrated annually from May 6, also known as National Nurses Day, through May 12, the birthday of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. This years theme, “Nurses: Strength, Commitment, Compassion” serves to recognize the importance of nurses to their patients, families and society.
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). Eighteen million dollars 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.
As First Lady, Mrs. Blagojevich has been a tireless advocate on women and children health care issues. Last October, the First Lady kicked off Breast Cancer Awareness month by encouraging African-American women and members of their churches to host “Pink Potlucks,” a social event that promotes women’s health awareness. In addition, Mrs. Blagojevich announced $700,000 in Penny Severns Breast, Cervical and Ovarian Cancer Research Grants and presented the People Are Today’s Heroes (PATH) Award on behalf of the Governor to Dr. Olufunmilayo I. Olopade of the University of Chicago for her dedication to breast cancer research. The First Lady also joined Y-ME Illinois and 1,500 breast cancer advocates at last year’s Y-ME Illinois Annual Fashion Show and Luncheon to honor breast cancer survivors in Illinois and to encourage annual breast cancer screening and mammograms.
Mrs. Blagojevich has also been a key supporter and advocate for the Governor’s All Kids program, a landmark health care initiative that makes Illinois the first state in the nation to provide affordable, comprehensive health care coverage to every uninsured child in the state. Additionally, the First Lady launched the Illinois Pediatric Vision Awareness Initiative—the first state-sponsored campaign in the U.S. to specifically target amblyopia, or lazy eye, in children.