$5 million grant to address nurse shortage in Texas

Laura Morales

The nursing labor shortage in Texas prompted the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to allocate $5 million to educational programs last Thursday.

The board gave the money to the Nursing, Allied Health and Other Health-related Education Grant Program at their quarterly meeting. The board will be taking applications for the grant from nursing programs in the spring. House Bill 1401, passed in last spring’s legislative session, mandates the grant give priority to clinical training in settings with vulnerable populations. 

Stacey Silverman, the board’s deputy assistant commissioner of academic quality, said she has been working with UT’s School of Nursing and other programs across Texas to bring services to rural and lower income areas, which face the most significant shortage of licensed nurses.

“The focus will be on developing new clinical partnerships with hospitals,” Silverman said. “What we are trying to do is get nurses out into communities of high need, particularly in the rural and underserved areas of Texas, of which there are so many.”

Silverman said this rise in demand is most likely due to the growth of the retiree population, a demographic that needs higher levels of medical attention. She said nurses who are highly qualified are also retiring, further contributing to the shortage.

The Texas Department of State Health Services estimates the deficit of licensed nurses across different specialties will rise to more than 25,000 in 2022, according to the department’s Nurse Supply and Demand Projections for 2015–2030. Cindy Zolnierek, Texas Nurses Association CEO, said her organization helped collect this data, and she presented it to the Texas legislature to show the need for increased investment in educational programs.

“This data enabled the state to describe the nursing shortage, track the number of new graduates entering the workforce and define the difficulties schools are facing in increasing their capacity,” Zolnierek said. “This data effectively demonstrates the seriousness of the nursing shortage to the Texas legislature.”

The Texas legislature and the board created the grant program, which has provided funding to Texas nursing schools since its creation in 2001, after a lawsuit settlement required tobacco companies to reimburse the state for smoking-related Medicaid costs and to fund anti-smoking programs.

Alexa Stuifbergen, dean of the School of Nursing, said UT’s program has received funding from the grant in the past and has a faculty member sitting on the board’s Nursing Shortage Reduction committee. 

She said the grant only funds for the initial expansion of enrollment, not the maintenance of those numbers. Stuifbergen said she is not sure if they will continue with the Texas Nursing Shortage Reduction Program which distributes the grant. 

“You don’t just want quantity, you want quality,” Stuifbergen said. “There is lots of research linking the education of nurses to the ultimate health outcomes that patients have. It will predict whether you survive your surgery (and) the occurrence of complications. The more educated nurses you have, the better off we are all going to be.”