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Committee Approves Nursing Shortage Legislation

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on November 1 approved, by voice vote, two bills (S. 721 and S. 1597) designed to reduce the nursing shortage. Sponsored by Sens. Tim Hutchinson (R-AR) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), the Nursing Employment and Education Development (NEED) Act (S. 721) would establish a Nursing Corps Scholarship Program. The program would provide scholarships to individuals seeking nursing education in exchange for service in a critical nursing shortage area upon completion of that education. The program would be authorized at $10 million in FY2002 and $15 million annually in FY2003 and FY2004.

Additionally, the measure would authorize $5 million in FY2002 for a public education campaign aimed at enhancing the image of the nursing profession, promoting diversity in the workforce, encouraging individuals to enter the nursing profession, and encouraging career development for individuals in the nursing profession.

S. 721 also would authorize funding for nursing schools to expand the operation of area health education centers and would establish a grant program to aid community-based partnerships in establishing programs to recruit and retain nurses. Area health education centers would be authorized at $5 million in FY2002 and the community nurse outreach grants would be authorized at $10 million in FY2002.

An additional $10 million would be authorized in FY2002 to award grants to disadvantaged individuals to pursue a nursing career. Another $10 million would be authorized in FY2002 for grants aimed at encouraging individuals in nursing programs to pursue further nursing training and education. A grant program to encourage individuals to pursue careers in long-term care would be authorized at $10 million, as would a program to develop internship and residency programs that encourage mentoring.

The NEED Act would establish a fast-track nursing faculty loan program. Loans would be made to nursing students in financial need to pursue a master’s or doctoral degree. Another program to establish a scholarship and stipend program that would encourage individuals to pursue a master’s or doctoral degree would be created under the legislation.

Finally, S. 721 would establish a National Commission on the Nursing Crisis and would authorize $5 million in FY2002 for the commission.

The committee adopted, by voice vote, an amendment by Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Gordon Smith (R-OR) that would authorize $85 million over six years for a program to help hospitals retain nurses.

Sponsored by Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and James Jeffords (I-VT), S. 1597, the Nurse Reinvestment Act, contains provisions similar to the NEED Act; however, the legislative language was not available at press time. Sponsors of the bills are expected to combine the measures into a single package prior to floor action.

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