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Beshear declares nurse shortage an emergency

Governor Andy Beshear signs an executive order declaring a state of emergency because of a...
Governor Andy Beshear signs an executive order declaring a state of emergency because of a shortage of nurses.(WKYT)
Published: Dec. 10, 2021 at 3:05 PM CST
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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WAVE) - Gov. Andy Beshear declared the state’s nursing shortage an emergency Thursday and announced executive actions to boost enrollment in nurse training programs across the Commonwealth.

“Even before the pandemic hit, nursing shortages were a problem,” Beshear said. “Now, the commonwealth and the nation are experiencing a dire shortage.”

The emergency order allows nursing schools to enroll more students, requires schools to report vacant student seats and faculty shortages to the Kentucky Board of Nursing every month, allows schools that want to open nursing campuses to do so more quickly, and lets nurses licensed in other states to come work in Kentucky, among other changes.

The state will need around 16,000 additional nurses by 2024, according to Beshear, and he said the executive actions will help meet that need.

However, some nurses told WAVE 3 News other changes need to take place to help ease the nurse shortage. Currently, nurses are joining travel agencies and leaving Kentucky to work in other states, including California and Texas, because they offer better benefits and higher wages, some as much as $200 an hour.

“If they can make a lot of money in a very short period of time, do we begrudge them for taking that opportunity to do that?” Delanor Manson, CEO of the Kentucky Nurses Association said. “The answer is no. It does leave their communities in dire need of support though.”

Manson said the state needs to make it more attractive for nurses to work in Kentucky by paying more and possibly shortening shifts. Those incentives could also help draw more nursing students, she added.

“If we could manage shifts so they could provide work life balance, we might be able to recruit more students to become nurses, but certainly we need a lot more faculty to make that happen,” Manson said.

Last year, 500 nursing school seats sat empty because there weren’t enough faculty members to teach.

While many nurses have left Kentucky for other states or left the industry altogether, some nurses like Alicia Sutherland are committed to sticking it out.

“I want to be here, because I know how much of a difference it makes for me to be here,” Sutherland said.

Sutherland told WAVE 3 News the pandemic forced the healthcare staff at UofL Health-Shelbyville Hospital to work as a team, which made her appreciate her job more.

“Sometimes the most impactful things that happen to us are through the most difficult things,” Sutherland said. “I think being a nurse during the pandemic has made me want to be a nurse more. Honestly, it’s grown my love for healthcare in general.”

She offered some advice to frustrated nurses on the verge of quitting:

“I think remembering the reason why you got into nursing and remembering those days where you got home and you just really felt like you made a difference, and just focusing on that to get through the tougher times,” Sutherland said.

Beshear’s emergency order also creates the Team Kentucky Nurse Advisory Group whose members will be tasked with coming up with more solutions to the shortage.

He plans to include a loan forgiveness and scholarship program for nurses who stay in Kentucky in the next budget, however, the General Assembly will have to approve the measure.

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