OLYMPIA — After the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the shortage of health care workers in Washington, the legislature this session approved funding for a host of proposals aimed at attracting new medical workers.
These include funding for more seats in statewide nursing programs, a new nursing program at Eastern Washington University, new lab equipment at some colleges and universities, and a loan remission program for nurse educators.
Nurses’ unions had hoped the legislature would pass a safe staffing standard, which would have established staff-to-patient ratios in hospitals, but strong opposition from hospitals sank the bill.
Yet the state budget provides $37 million throughout the 2023 budget cycle for nursing and health care education and support.
In his initial budget proposal, Governor Jay Inslee asked lawmakers to fund many programs that ended up in the final budget, but some funding was not included.
“I don’t think we got everything we offered,” Inslee told reporters. “But we have done great things in health care.”
Specifically, he pointed to the increased slots for nurses and the loan relief program for nurse educators.
A bill allows nurse educators who teach for an approved nursing program to apply for loan repayment grants through the state. Nurse educators must have a graduate degree in nursing and be a faculty member of an approved nursing program to be eligible.
It also provides $6 million to the ministry to set up a grant program for nurses who wish to supervise nursing students in health care practices. The goal of the program is to reduce shortages in healthcare facilities, so students can complete their clinical hours and bring more nurses into the field, according to a summary of the budget.
Lawmakers have also provided funds to create new nursing programs at state universities and open more slots in existing programs.
Eastern Washington University received $6 million over the next two years to create a bachelor’s degree in nursing program, and Western Washington University received $461,000 to create a master’s degree in nursing program, as well as $433,000 for the university’s program that allows registered nurses with college degrees or associate’s degrees who seek a bachelor’s degree.
The University of Washington received $1.2 million for additional seats and graduates, including through its existing accelerated bachelor of science program at its Seattle campus. He also received $273,000 for the School of Nursing and Health Care Leadership at the Tacoma campus.
The state’s community and technical college system has received more than $3.7 million over the next two years for an increase of at least 50 nursing slots for the next academic year and to build the capacity of at minus 200 new slots by the 2023-2025 budget cycle. At least $300,000 of the funding must be used for colleges enrolling new cohorts of at least 25 nursing students beginning in spring 2023.
The budget provides funding for 10 full-time staff to process nurse licenses in seven days or less, an attempt to get nurses into the field faster.
For long-term care facilities, the budget provides $761,000 over the next two years for the Department of Health to develop changes related to training and nursing credential testing for staff long-term care and launches a licensed practical nurse learning path.
The Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board, a governor-appointed board that oversees the state’s workforce training systems, was awarded $772,000 to conduct a workforce survey in the health care field to address retention and career pathways in long-term care facilities.
Legislators have earmarked funds to purchase or upgrade their lab equipment. The community and technical college network has received $8 million over the next two years. The Student Achievement Council, a state agency that works to increase educational attainment in the state, and public schools each received $3.6 million for the next two years.