May 24, 2024 - News

Grants will boost nursing pipeline in NWA

Illustration of a health plus carved out of an apple.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Northwest Arkansas nursing schools plan to use millions in grant money to put more nurses in Arkansas hospitals and clinics, Axios learned from nursing school officials.

Why it matters: There's a nationwide shortage of both licensed practical nurses and registered nurses. Hospitals and clinics in NWA have more than 100 such openings, according to the Northwest Arkansas Council's job search tool.

By the numbers: Arkansas awarded $20.4 million to 19 nursing schools across the state. NorthWest Arkansas Community College will receive about $2.1 million, second only to Arkansas State University. The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville will get about $1.2 million.

  • John Brown University in Siloam Springs will receive $328,250.
  • The grants, announced last week, are from the Arkansas Linking Industry to Growing Nurses (ALIGN) program funded by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

State of play: UA-Fayetteville plans to use its grant to cover tuition and fees for Washington Regional Medical System employees looking to obtain bachelor's degrees, nursing school assistant director Sarah Bemis told Axios. Licensed practical nurses can advance to registered nurses, and RNs who never completed their bachelor's degrees can do so.

  • The number of students it will cover is TBD.
  • In turn, Washington Regional will pay for two staff members — an academic support coordinator to help guide the students and an administrative support position to handle the additional paperwork.

Be smart: Hospitals with a higher proportion of nurses with bachelor's degrees see better patient outcomes — like lower mortality rates — in part because nurses who attend four-year programs tend to get broader training on community and population health, Bemis said.

What they're saying: "We are trying to get as many nurses into the hospital as we possibly can," Mark Wallenmeyer, dean of the NWACC nursing program, told Axios. About 95% of the Bentonville community college's nursing graduates take jobs locally.

  • NWACC plans to add a practical-nursing program with 16 slots in spring 2025. Hospitals and clinics are leaning on LPNs, who can complete their training faster and don't make as much money as registered nurses, to alleviate some of the nursing shortage.
  • The LPN training will be a one-year program, including summer classes, with nine hours of prerequisites; meanwhile, the RN program requires 35 hours of prerequisites.

The big picture: The national shortage, combined with NWA's growing population and booming health care industry, demands more nurses, Wallenmeyer said.

The NWACC grant money will pay for two practical-nursing instructors and a marketing/recruiter position; textbooks, along with equipment both on campus and at the simulation lab at Mercy Hospital in Rogers. The hospital will also provide faculty.

  • NWACC in April received a separate $736,000 from the federal Strengthening Community Colleges Training Grants Program. The plan is to divide the money between the college's nursing and emergency medical services programs to cover faculty positions, Wallenmeyer said.

What's next: NWACC, which offers five nursing tracks that take 40 students each, plans to add another in fall 2025 or 2026 for 40 students who need to attend class and train on nights and weekends.


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