By Calvin Cutler; WCAX
State leaders are sounding the alarm over a shortage of nurses. The problem is hardly new or unique to Vermont, but leaders say the pandemic has made it worse and is in part delaying medical care.
“When we need medical care we want to make sure someone is there to help us. We know that many nurses right now are feeling overwhelmed,” said Sen. Becca Balint, D-Vt. Senate President Pro Tem.
Vermont has some 15,000 nurses statewide. We will need another 9,000 nurses over the next five years to fill current shortages and also replace those who are retiring.
Sen. Bernie Sanders says a healthy nursing workforce would have 25,000 nurses of all levels.
But there’s a jam in the talent pipeline. Hospitals are instead relying on traveling nurses. They cost Vermont $75 million last year alone.
“Instead of spending money to educate nurses who will be part of a long-term sustainable workforce, we are spending huge sums of money on people who come into the state and then leave,” said Sanders, I-Vermont.
Vermont lawmakers invested $4 million in nursing scholarships last year. And the governor earmarked $30 million in workforce recruitment and retention bonuses.
“Support for tuition is a big, big piece of what we need to get more nurses into the workforce,” said Pat Moulton, the president of Vermont Technical College.
Moulton says Vermont Technical College graduates 300 nursing students annually across 14 campuses. But she says there’s also a shortage of faculty to train nurses. Their average teaching salary is $60,000, a lot less than nurses can make in the field. It’s a challenge she says is exacerbated by other issues.
“We don’t have affordable housing, we don’t have adequate child care, we don’t have adequate rural transportation,” Moulton said.
The governor says he’ll pitch more solutions in his budget address later this month.
“We’re all committed to working together to address this issue,” said Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont.
Leaders acknowledge the solution won’t come from the Legislature, the executive branch or even Congress. But they’re hoping that all three coming together can train and retain health care workers up and down the spectrum.