Kentucky Aims to Tackle Nursing Shortage By Increasing School Enrollment, Forgiving Loans

Kentucky is taking major steps toward ensuring that it adds 16,000 nurses by 2024.

Governor Andy Beshear issued an executive order on Thursday that will take "immediate actions that we believe will provide some relief" to the current nursing shortage in the state. These actions include a push to get students to enroll in state nursing programs. Schools must be able to report the number of vacant student slots each month.

Further, the state's Board of Nursing will be expected to approve requests from nursing schools to increase capacity and resources. The openings will allow more campuses to open and, in turn, have more students and registered professionals available for care.

The order is not the only move that the state is making to increase nursing staff. Beshear's upcoming state budget will allow proposals to begin programs that allow some forms of loan forgiveness, as well as new scholarship funds for nurses who agree to stay in the state for a specific amount of time.

Nurses working through the pandemic will also be given extra pay designated from $400 million in federal pandemic aid. The budget will be presented to the Republican-dominated legislature in early 2022.

"This isn't about process, this isn't about party. This is about the people that have kept us alive, kept us safe, kept us healthy, kept us fed, kept us safely in our home with our lights and our heat on during this pandemic," Beshear said during a press conference announcing the measures. "Saying no to this program is saying no to them."

Andy Beshear
Governor Andy Beshear declared Kentucky’s chronic nursing shortage an emergency on December 9, 2021, in taking executive actions aimed at boosting enrollment in nurse-training programs. Above, Beshear speaks about the increases in COVID-19 cases in the state and the opening day of the Kentucky State Legislature special session in Frankfort on September 7, 2021. AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File

The nurse staffing emergency in Kentucky reflects a national epidemic created by the pandemic. Health leaders say the problem is twofold: Nurses are quitting or retiring, exhausted or demoralized by the crisis. And many are leaving for lucrative temporary jobs with traveling-nurse agencies.

Such severe shortages threaten "not only the health of patients but the entire health care delivery system," Beshear said.

He added that Kentucky is operating 12 percent to 20 percent short of "needed nursing volume."

"In the midst of a pandemic, and in the midst of a shortage this dire, we've got to do things a little bit differently, to make sure that we get the results we need at the time that we need them the most," the governor said.

Schools unable to accommodate their full student capacity due to staffing shortages will be expected to notify state officials, with the goal of helping them hire more faculty, he said. Also, an advisory committee will be formed to offer additional proposals to overcome nursing shortages.

It's the second straight day the governor took executive action to confront a nagging state problem.

On Wednesday, Beshear awarded a 10 percent pay raise to Kentucky's social service workers. The pay boost is aimed at halting the widespread loss of frontline employees demoralized by low salaries and bulging workloads who are serving vulnerable children and adults.

The pay increase will take effect on December 16 for social workers and family support services staff, the governor said. It's the result of his action to reclassify their jobs to a higher grade.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Kentucky Nurse
Kentucky is taking major steps toward ensuring that it has more than 16,000 nurses by 2024. Above, nurses fill syringes of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines during a pop-up vaccination event at Lynn Family Stadium on April 26, 2021, in Louisville, Kentucky. Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images