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Following the state health commissioner’s remarks to a legislative committee yesterday calling the shortage of nurses a “significant issue,” NJBIA on Tuesday renewed its call for the Murphy administration to use unspent federal COVID relief aid to help remedy the situation.

Commissioner Judith Persichilli told the Assembly budget committee on Monday there are not enough students currently enrolled in nursing schools to compensate for the large numbers of nurses who will be leaving the workforce soon because of age or COVID-related burnout.

“We know that 20% to 30% of the nursing workforce is going to retire shortly,” Persichilli said in response to a question from Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz during the Assembly Budget Committee’s hearing on the Department of Health’s FY23 budget.

“We know that enrollments in nursing schools are up – nationally by 3.5% and could be as high as 5% – but not enough to cover the loss that we’re going to have because of the impact of retirements and the impact of the pandemic,” Persichilli said. “I think it’s a significant issue.”

NJBIA has been outspoken about using funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act to attract and retain a qualified healthcare workforce to help stabilize the industry.  In addition to nurses, there is a shortage of certified nursing assistants (CNAs), certified home health aides (CHHAs), dental assistants, personal care assistants, and behavioral health providers.

Chief Government Affairs Officer Chrissy Buteas said Tuesday other states have used ARPA funds to hire temporary nurses and other healthcare workers at hospitals and certified nursing assistants for long-term care facilities. Texas has spent $7 billion in ARPA funds to hire nurses and other hospital workers and $400 million to address staffing shortages in long-term care facilities. Georgia has also used $125 million in ARPA funds to hire hospital workers.

Buteas noted that New York Gov. Kathy Hochul is making a substantial $20 billion, multiyear investment in that state’s healthcare infrastructure, which included higher wages and bonuses for frontline healthcare workers.

“New Jersey can use APRA funding to provide immediate incentives for employees to work in this critical sector,” Buteas said. “Over the longer term, the state should build on its workforce development investments through the New Jersey Pathways and Skills Collaborative – an initiative that NJBIA and community colleges formed with partnerships across four key growth industries, including healthcare, to equip the workforce with in-demand stackable credentials to fulfill our state’s most pressing workforce needs.”

NJBIA and other stakeholders have also recently petitioned the Department of Health for changes to state rules that set the qualification requirements for instructors who train certified nursing assistants for work in long-term care facilities. There is currently a shortage of instructors and allowing more flexibility in the rules would make a greater number of advanced practice nurses eligible to provide this training to future CPNs.