Senators introduce four bills meant to address nurse shortage in Nebraska
LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - The Nebraska Hospital Association’s president made a message clear in the State Capitol building Tuesday afternoon; Nebraska legislators need to address the critical nurse shortage in the state.
“Inaction now will lead to a decade or more of chronic under-staffing in our healthcare system in Nebraska,” Jeremy Nordquist, president of the Nebraska Hospital Association said.
Nordquist said data collected by the association paints a clear picture of the shortage. Seventy-three of Nebraska’s 93 counties have less nurses than the national average, 66 counties have been deemed medically under-served and nine counties have zero registered nurses in their population.
He said if nothing is done, Nebraska will be short nearly 5,500 nurses by 2025. The COVID-19 pandemic is only making the situation worse.
“I’ve been a nurse for 30 years,” Linda Stones, a registered nurse with the Nebraska Nurses Association said. “These nurses working right now have seen more death and dying in the last three years than I’ve ever seen in my 30 year career.”
Nordquist said data shows 30 percent of Nebraska nurses are considering leaving their career in healthcare. Sixty percent report the pandemic has caused stress that’s impacting their mental health.
This data is why four state senators are asking for $62 million in American Rescue Plan Act money to help recruit and retain nurses.
The largest bill is proposed by Omaha Senator Mike McDonnell. He’s asking for $50 million to be sent to hospitals to distribute to nurses as cash bonuses. Hospitals would have discretion on how to distribute the money, but it would have to go to nurses. If divided evenly, it would amount to about $2,000 per nurse in the state.
“When you talk to nurses, when you look into their eyes, you know they’re exhausted,” McDonnell said. “They don’t want to give up but they’re going through so much on a daily basis. I’m not saying money is going to change that or make up for the sacrifice they made because they’re so committed but we have to do something to say please hang on.”
Second, is a $2 million bill introduced by Omaha Senator Robert Hilkemann which would provide hospitals with grants for innovative patient care, something that’s played a big part of the pandemic.
Hilkemann, a retired physician, spoke directly to nurses.
“I hope to give hospitals another opportunity to help you in your training and move forward so we can create the 21st century, post COVID, healthcare system,” Hilkemann said.
Third, is a $5 million bill introduced by Lincoln Senator Patty Pansing Brooks that would add new positions with the Nebraska Department of Education to oversee career and technical programs that get high school students involved in careers early on.
“These dollars are to help young kids in high school learn healthcare skills, education skills, farming skills, trade skills,” Pansing Brooks said. “It allows students to have impacts and connections in these professions to be able to move forward and stay in Nebraska and be part of our workforce.”
The fourth bill will be introduced to the legislature Wednesday by Lincoln Senator Myron Dorn. It would take $5 million and create scholarships for nursing students.
Stones said these bills need to be a priority for senators.
“It’s going to get worse if we don’t stand behind these people. We have to do something for these people, for communities, for staff,” Stones said. “Money isn’t everything but it speaks a lot and as a nurse if I can get a nurse a few extra dollars to get their house cleaned so when they leave and go home they can spend time with their families, that’s huge.”
She said she hopes senators seek out feedback from front-line healthcare workers while negotiating these laws.
“The worst of the pandemic is behind the walls of our ICU units where we have very limited people who are able to come and see,” Stones said. “They need to hear those stories.”
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