Education, Healthcare, Latest News, State Government

Justice announces $48M program to recruit, train 2,000 new nurses in next 4 years

MORGANTOWN – In light of the COVID-related stresses on medical systems across the state, Gov. Jim Justice Tuesday announced a new $48 million program to recruit and train new nurses.

Last year, he said 1,700 West Virginia nurses didn’t renew their licenses, and 68% of those said it was tied to being worn out by the pandemic. He cited a release from the West Virginia Hospital Association that describes the strains on the health system during the pandemic, and how it may get worse during the coming winter delta-omicron surge.

Justice’s Deputy Chief of Staff Ann Urling said that state agencies had been taking a siloed, fractured approach to addressing the nursing shortage. So they worked with the Department of Health and Human Resources, the Higher Education Policy Commission and the West Virginia Hospital Association.

“I think we have a good solid plan,” she said, aimed at producing 2,000 additional new nurses during the next four years.

Dr. Cynthia Persily, HEPC senior director of Health Sciences, said three schools will participate. Glenville State will team with Marshall University. Concord College will launch a new program. Bridge Valley Community and Technical College will expand its existing programs.

“This is definitely a historic investment in nursing, in our nursing workforce, for the future of West Virginia,” she said. Among other things, it will fully fund the state nursing scholarship program and add support to the nursing faculty loan repayment program to pay for people to train the new nurses.

Money will also go toward expanding other existing training programs, Justice said. The money will come from unused CARES Act funds. He acknowledged some trainees will leave the state, but other nurses will be recruited from other states.

Persily said that the program won’t provide immediate relief. LPN programs are one year, associate’s degree programs are two years and RN programs are four years. But the HEPC is working with the Hospital Association and the National Guard on some measures to provide some immediate relief. She didn’t specify what those might be.

COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh spent time talking more about the omicron variant. “We have seen the omicron COVID-19 variant become the most infectious respiratory virus on this planet,” he said.

The delta variant out-competed and surpassed the U.K. variant in three months, he said. Omicron has out-competed delta in just three weeks. Two weeks ago in the United States, omicron made up just 3% of new cases; one week ago, it was up to 13%; on Monday it had climbed to 73%.

Data from England does not suggest it’s any less severe than the other variants, he said. And while there are only three documented cases in West Virginia, all the border states are seeing it grow. “So it’s only a matter of time.”

People can’t count on some kind if natural immunity from prior COVID cases, he said. Those who’ve had COVID before face 10 times the risk of infection and 20 times the risk of death from omicron, according to the CDC, he said.

“We know that people who are unvaccinated are all likely to come into contact with this variant and very likely to get infected,” he said.

People need to get vaccinated and get boosted. Nationally, only 30% of those eligible for a booster have received one, he said; in West Virginia, it’s about 32% to 33%. “I am very, very worried for the coming month to two-and-a-half months.”

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