SPRINGFIELD – Carrying out a goal set by Governor Rod R. Blagojevich during his Fiscal Year 2007 budget address to stem the state’s nursing shortage, officials from his administration today opened the Illinois Center for Nursing in Springfield. The new center is beginning its work today, less than six months after the Governor signed comprehensive legislation designed to help the state meet the growing health care needs of Illinois’ aging baby boomer generation.
"As our baby boomer population grows older, we have to step up to the challenge of providing quality healthcare, and that means training and recruiting more nurses. This Center will help make sure that we know what the demands will be on our healthcare system in the future, and will take the lead in developing strategies to build up an adequate force of well-trained nurses to meet that demand," said Gov. Blagojevich.
The Center is housed at the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) in the state’s capital. Today, the Center’s Advisory Board met for the first time. The 11-member board, appointed by Gov. Blagojevich represents the diversity of the Illinois’ health care community and includes members from every region of the state. The Center is 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 nurses. The board will also work with state, regional and local businesses and governments to provide support for programs to expand opportunities for nurses in Illinois.
"Less than six months after the Governor signed a groundbreaking law, the Center will start working hard to develop a plan to significantly reduce the nursing shortage in Illinois. This is a strategic initiative that will help the state strengthen its nursing workforce and that underscores Governor Blagojevich’s commitment to the nursing profession in Illinois," said IDFPR Secretary Dean Martinez, who presided over the opening ceremony on behalf of Gov. Blagojevich.
The board will begin working immediately on several urgent issues. First, the members will assess current efforts to reduce Illinois’ nursing shortage and establish a framework for systemic changes to eliminate the projected shortage. Next, the board will begin working with IDFPR staff on the Center’s new website www.nursing.illinois.gov to build a valuable resource for nurses and their employers across the state, with information about licensing, educational opportunities, scholarships, the Center’s initiatives and links to other sites of interest to nurses in Illinois.
Early in his administration, Gov. Blagojevich reviewed the state of health care in Illinois and found that 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.
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. Local Workforce Investment Boards, area employers, economic development professionals, educators and service providers are developing individualized strategies to get more health care professionals into the workforce. That innovative approach to expanding training opportunities is being replicated by Indiana.
In Illinois, the results of the Governor’s initiative are starting to be realized:
The City of Peoria’s Workforce Development Department has enrolled over 100 students in allied health and nursing education programs. All 15 of the students who have graduated from that program are working in health-related careers. One student was a Certified Nurse Assistant when she first came to Workforce Network. Based on her current education, she was limited as to the type of job she could obtain within the health care field. Her career goal was to be a Registered Nurse, but she could only reach that goal with the help of the Network. In May 2006, she received her Registered Nurse pin as a graduate of OSF St. Francis College of Nursing and is now working at OSF Medical Center as a Nurse in the Fourth Surgical Department.
In Rock Island, the Partners in Job Training and Placement provided 77 students with financial and placement assistance. Seventeen students have graduated with associate degrees in nursing and other allied health care professions.
A Chicago-based program provides concentrated assistance to Spanish speaking students. The Instituto del Progreso Latino established the Carreras en Salud, a career pathways curriculum bridging bilingual students with positions as Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) and Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs). Thirty students have completed the program and are now working in nursing positions. Almost 300 students are enrolled in the Carreras en Salud curriculum.
Several programs have announced expansions of their health care education programs. Saint Anthony College of Nursing in Rockford announced in February that it would be creating a Masters program for nursing. Northern Illinois University (NIU) is expanding opportunities in Chicago’s northwest suburbs by partnering with suburban Harper College to earn credit for nursing course work and general education before applying to NIU to complete the four-year program leading to a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Western Illinois University has also announced it is exploring the possibility of offering a baccalaureate nursing program.
The legislation that created the Illinois Nursing Center will also help Illinois address the projected shortage of nurses by providing scholarships for nurse educators willing to commit to teaching in Illinois. The law also creates the Illinois Nurse Educator Loan Repayment Program through the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC). The program will allow current nurse educators to receive $5,000 in student loan forgiveness a year, for up to four years. The program is expected to be up and running next year.
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:
Professional License Reform Project: Also included in the FY 2007 budget was 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. IDFPR has 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 reduces application processing time for professional licenses from the four to19 weeks it took last year, to just one to four weeks – an improvement of more than 400%. The initiative costs $1.5 million annually.
Enhancing the Nursing Education Scholarship Program: The Nursing Education Scholarship Program became more effective when additional funding was 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 was $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 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.