November 18, 2009

Gillibrand Working To Secure Economic Recovery Dollars For Health Care Worker Training In Western New York

Project Expected To Train Thousands Of Health Care Workers In Erie And Niagara Counties

Washington, DC - U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today pushed for federal economic recovery dollars to create a health care worker training program in Western New York. The federal dollars would be allocated by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which Senator Gillibrand helped pass earlier this year. The federal dollars would primarily be used to train new nurses to help fill a current lack of qualified nurses in the face of increasing needs.

"As we work to fix health care, we must also address our nursing shortage," said Senator Gillibrand. "These federal dollars would provide training to thousands of health care workers to ensure our nursing workforce can meet the health care challenges of the twenty first century. The success of the project will benefit the long-term maintenance and improvement of health care in a region affected by joblessness following the downturn in the auto industry."

"While manufacturing and other sectors in Western New York experience job reductions due  to the recession and structural change, the health care sector is growing in employment and is a major driver of the local economy. Meanwhile, health care worker shortages persist, notably in nursing, the allied health occupations.  These shortages could lead to a crisis as the population ages and older health care workers retire. To address these needs in Erie and Niagara counties, the coalition has proposed an aggressive strategy to increase the supply of health care professionals and train workers in the new Health Information Technology," said James Finamore, Executive Director of the Buffalo and Erie County Workforce Investment Board.

"This project will address the requirements for long term care improvements, as well as the need for more nurses and healthcare professionals. We have had an active group that has brought together community hospitals, long term care facilities, unions, and educational providers with our workforce development system to address significant needs throughout this diverse area. The Erie and Niagara WIBs have partnered in several recent initiatives, and together we will have a very comprehensive strategy to focus on healthcare workforce requirements, including training and skills upgrading," said David See, Executive Director of the Niagara County Workforce Investment Board.

In May, Senator Gillibrand's office released a report on New York's nursing shortage, citing that Western New York's current vacancy rate for nurses is approximately 10.6 percent. In 10 years, 7,574 additional nurses will be needed.

The Buffalo and Erie County Workforce Investment Board requested $5 million in project funding, along with millions more in leveraged funds from partner organizations. They said this project has the potential to provide job training for thousands of health care workers.

The Buffalo and Erie County Workforce Investment Board was established in 2000 under the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) and is the lead agency for the WIA program in Erie County.  The organization is applying for this grant on behalf of a collaboration between six major hospitals, seven educational institutions, a major health care union and the Niagara County WIB.

Earlier this year, Senator Gillibrand released a plan to address the nursing shortage, including:

1.      Increasing Nursing Faculty.  Nursing faculty salary can be as much as 15 percent less than practicing nurses.  The Nurses' Higher Education Loan Repayment (HEAL) Act would establish parity between nursing faculty and their students by offering full repayment on graduate degree loan debt assumed by nursing educators. 

2.      Increasing Spots at Nursing Schools.  The Nurse Education, Expansion and Development Act would provide grants to nursing schools to increase the numbers of faculty.

3.      Incentivizing Nurse Practitioners in Underserved Areas.  Earlier this year, Senator Gillibrand helped pass President Obama's Economic Recovery plan, which included $300 million to the National Health Service Corps to recruit nurses to work in underserved areas.

4.      Investing in Long Term Development of the Nursing Workforce.  After flat funding in the previous Administration, Senator Gillibrand is working to secure additional funding for Nursing Workforce Development (Title VIII of the Public Health Service Act).

5.      Expanding the Nurse Workforce. The Medicare Graduate Nurses Education Act would allow hospitals with graduate nursing education programs to receive Medicare funding.

Senator Gillibrand's complete plan can be viewed here.