Nurse, Healthcare Worker Shortage at Center of Several New Legislative Programs


OLYMPIA — After the COVID-19 pandemic worsened the healthcare worker shortage in Washington, the Legislature this session approved funding for a host of proposals to attract new medical workers.

Those include funding for more spots in nursing programs statewide, a new nursing program at Eastern Washington University, new lab equipment at some colleges and universities and a loan forgiveness program for nurse educators.

Nursing unions had hoped the Legislature would pass a safe staffing standard, which would have put in staff-to-patient ratios in hospitals, but stiff opposition from hospitals sunk the bill.

Still, the state budget provides $37 million through the 2023 budget cycle for nursing and health care education and support.

In his initial budget proposal, Gov. Jay Inslee asked legislators to fund many of the programs that ended up in the final budget, but some funding wasn't included.

"I don't think we got everything we proposed," Inslee told reporters. "But we did do some big things in health care."

Specifically, he pointed to increasing the number of slots for nurses and the loan forgiveness program for nurse educators.

One bill allows nurse educators who teach for an approved nursing program to apply for loan repayment grants through the state. Nurse educators must hold an advanced nursing degree and be faculty members at an approved nursing program to qualify.

It also provides $6 million for the department to set up a grant program for nurses who are willing to supervise nursing students in health care practices. The goal of the program is to reduce shortages in health care settings, for students to conduct their clinical hours and bring more nurses into the field, according to a summary of the budget.

Legislators also provided funding to create new nursing programs at state universities and open up more slots in existing programs.

Eastern Washington University received $6 million over the next two years to create a bachelor's of science in nursing program, and Western Washington University got $461,000 to create a master's of science in nursing program, as well as $433,000 for the university's program that allows registered nurses with associate degrees or diplomas who are seeking a bachelor's degree.

The University of Washington received $1.2 million for additional slots and graduates, including at its existing accelerated bachelor's of science program at its Seattle campus. It also received $273,000 for the school of nursing and healthcare leadership at the Tacoma campus.

The state community and technical college system 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 capacity for at least 200 new slots by the 2023-2025 budget cycle. At least $300,000 of the funding must be used for colleges that enroll new cohorts of at least 25 nursing students beginning in spring 2023.

The budget provides funding for 10 full-time employees to process nursing licenses in seven days or less, an attempt to get nurses into the field more quickly.

For long-term care facilities, the budget provides $761,000 in the next two years for the Department of Health to develop changes related to training and testing for nursing credentials for long-term care staff and launch a licensed practical nurse apprenticeship pathway.

The Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board, a governor-appointed board that oversees the state's workforce training systems, received $772,000 to conduct a workforce survey in the health care field to address retention and career pathways in long-term care facilities.

Legislators dedicated funding to purchase or upgrade their lab equipment. The community and technical college system received $8 million in the next two years. The Student Achievement Council, a state agency that works to increase education attainment in the state, and public schools each received $3.6 million for the next two years.