Loan relief for Granite State nurses could be on the horizon
New Hampshire has long struggled with a shortage of qualified nursing professionals, a problem exposed by the tension of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the health crisis, Governor Chris Sununu issued several orders to help close the gap, including one that made certain nursing students eligible for temporary licenses to help with the state’s COVID-19 response, and one that provided Allowance of $ 300 per week health workers.
Now the governor is trying to provide another incentive to bring medical professionals into the state and encourage local graduates to stay: expanded student loan repayments.
According to spokesman Ben Vihstadt, the draft student debt relief plan, which is described in the budget request for fiscal year 2022-2023, would allocate approximately $ 10 million per year to support loan repayment for graduates in health care, biotechnology, social work and other related fields. Recipients would be required to stay and work in New Hampshire for at least five years.
The governor’s budget request also includes increased funding for the state’s student loan repayment program for medical professionals, roughly tripling the program’s budget.
Sununu plans to fund the new program without taxpayer money using 60 percent of the revenue the state receives from sponsorship of college savings plans. This is the governor’s second attempt to mount such an initiative. A similar proposal was withdrawn from the 2021-2022 budget by lawmakers, and this latest version is still under discussion at the Statehouse.
“Too many Granite Staters have been burdened with mountains of student debt for far too long,” Sununu said in a statement. »… Thanks to the strategic allocation of funds, this investment of approximately $ 100 million over the next ten years is free to taxpayers, provides essential resources to strengthen New Hampshire’s workforce, and ensures Granite State remains a top destination for millennials. This solution is a victory for all granite staters. “
Alisa Druzba, administrator of the rural health and primary care section of the Office of Public Health Systems, Policy and Performance, said she believed the program would be separate from the current one. Government loan repayment program, which is open to certain professionals working in medically underserved areas.
This initiative, administered by the Department of Health and Social Services, typically receives about $ 250,000 per year from the general state fund. It is currently only open to direct care professionals such as physicians, dentists, physician assistants, therapists and nurse practitioners. For the next biennium, Sununu proposed an annual budget of $ 766,783 per year for the program, according to Druzba.
She noted that previous plans to expand the program to registered nurses (RNs) have been disrupted by the effects of the pandemic, but officials still hope to expand the program into the next fiscal year, provided there is enough support. funding to do so.
Druzba said the program, which requires grantees to stay in their posts for at least three years, typically receives more applications than it can fund in any given year. During fiscal year 2020, 77 New Hampshire vendors participated in the reimbursement program, according to its annual report; of these, 20 were advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) and six were psychiatric nurse practitioners.
“I think after some of the demands on the system have gone down, we would expect people to ask for loan repayment (and) employers (to) learn about loan repayment and the different ways to recruit. and hold back to fill the shortage we experienced most acutely during the pandemic, ”Druzba said.
Although Licensed Practical Nurses (RNs) are also a critical need in nursing homes and long-term care facilities – which have been hit hard by the effects of the pandemic – Druzba said that as these positions require less education, loan repayment is generally less efficient. as an incentive. ANL graduates can leave school with something like $ 10,000 in debt, while other health professionals can accumulate $ 100,000 or more in loans. This means that tools like scholarships and tuition reimbursement are often more useful in attracting and retaining these workers.
As an LNA, “loan repayment is usually not what you are looking for,” Druzba said. “What you are looking for is a competitive salary in a workplace where it is flexible and where you have a good work-life balance.”
The New Hampshire Health Care Association said in December that the state had lost about 1,200 ALNs in the past two years. According to Vihstadt, individuals “in a position that requires the person to be authorized to provide medical care to patients ”would be eligible for the student debt assistance plan offered by Sununu, including IA and ALN.
Some states are already including RNs in their loan repayment programs. In Vermont, about $ 150,000 in public funding is set aside each year specifically for registered nurses and licensed practical nurses (LPNs), according to Elizabeth Cote, program director of the Primary Care and Regional Health Education Centers at the University of the Vermont.
In FY2020, the program received 63 applications from both RNs and LPNs, Cote said, noting that about half of applicants receive funding each year. Of the applicants, 75% graduated from a Vermont high school and 73% graduated from a Vermont nursing education program.
Cote said it was important for states to have incentives like this, but noted that loan repayments alone will not solve staff shortages in the field.
“This is not a quick fix; that’s not the only answer, ”she says. “… There has to be the right programs and other things in the mix for this to be some kind of a comprehensive workforce development initiative.
She highlighted the expanding capacity of nursing programs and sites where nursing students complete their clinical practicum, noting that programs often receive more nursing applicants than they can admit. Once nurses enter the field, the focus should also be on creating supportive work environments to help reduce turnover, she said.
In terms of attracting licensed professionals, expanding government loan repayment eligibility may help provide a short-term boost. But since most states offer some sort of loan repayment option for healthcare workers, Cote said that wouldn’t necessarily make one state more attractive to nurses than others in the long run.
“Over time the extent to which that is real value starts to decrease just because we all have it,” Cote said. “And while these programs are necessary, we also need to invest time in other elements of, what drives people towards certain careers and what motivates people in their work or their choices. careers?”
Pamela DiNapoli, executive director of the NH Nurses Association, said in an email that the organization has advocated for the addition of registered nurses to the state’s loan repayment program as a commission member of the state’s primary care workforce. When asked for a comment on the student debt assistance plan, DiNapoli said the association would be “delighted to see more money going to fund areas where there is currently a labor shortage. “
ALNs, in particular, face low hourly wages due to low Medicaid reimbursement rates, she said, and many left their posts during the pandemic due to “unsafe” working conditions. She added that the expanded reimbursement funds should go to medical professionals eager to work in areas where the demand for labor is greatest.
“There are few details related to the plan and the application and release process, but the NH Nurses Association applauds all attempts to reduce the debt burden of students who take or take health care programs in the State, ”said DiNapoli. “Of course, we would like these students to work in an organization at NH.”
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