January 17, 2022

Indiana lawmakers consider easing of nursing school rules

Lauren Chapman/IPB News

Lauren Chapman/IPB News

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A proposed loosening of Indiana’s regulations on nursing education programs is advancing in the Legislature, with supporters saying the step is needed to help address a statewide nursing shortage.

Hospital officials and health care organizations supporting the proposal have told legislators that thousands of nursing jobs are open across the state in a shortage exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic as some nurses have quit or taken part-time jobs, the Indianapolis Business Journal reported.

The Indiana House could vote in the coming days on approving the bill that would allow nursing schools to increase enrollment and hire more part-time instructors. A committee voted unanimously last week to endorse the proposal.

Community Health Network, with a staff of 5,000 nurses and hospitals in Indianapolis, Anderson and Kokomo, is trying to fill about 600 nursing positions, said Jean Putnam, the system’s chief nursing officer. She said hospitals and nursing homes across the state have some 4,000 nursing jobs open.

“I have never seen this type of vacancy rate in my career,” Putnam told the legislative committee.

The bill would allow nursing programs that have been operating for five years or longer and have an 80% or higher rate of students passing the state licensing exam to increase enrollment at any rate they deem appropriate, rather than current limit of 25% a year.

The bill would also allow nurses with a bachelor’s degree to teach associate-level nursing courses if they are enrolled and making progress in a master’s degree program. Other provisions would allow more than half of nursing program instructors to be part-time and permit schools to conduct more of a student’s clinical training time with simulations using mannikins and role-playing.

READ MORE: IU Health awards Ivy Tech $8.75M to increase capacity for nursing programs

Indiana will need an additional 5,000 nurses by 2031, and currently needs to increase the number of nursing students graduating each year by 1,350, said Republican Rep. Ethan Manning of Denver, the bill’s sponsor.

“It’s a problem that existed before, but the pandemic has made the problem worse, like many other things,” Manning said.

Ivy Tech Community College, which graduates about 1,300 nurses a year, said it had to turn down 300 qualified students last year because it didn’t have enough spots open. The bill would let Ivy Tech increase nursing spots by 600 a year by allowing it to hire more adjunct faculty that could teach courses and oversee clinical simulation training, said Mary Jane Michalak, the college’s vice president of public affairs.

Norma Hall, the nursing school dean at the University of Indianapolis, said she opposed provisions in the bill allowing schools to provide up to half of clinical training through simulation, rather than on real patients.

“This violates our national accreditation standard, which allows for simulation to be used as a supplement to, but not a replacement for, actual contact hours with patients,” she said.

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