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Lawmakers aim to address nursing shortage but nursing schools worry about standards

Justin Hicks
Certified nursing assistant students take an exam at AK Smith Career Academy in Michigan City.

Health care providers say Indiana has a nursing shortage crisis, made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. Legislation that cleared a Senate committee Wednesday seeks to help solve that issue.

But there’s stark disagreement about whether the bill weakens standards too much to reach its goal.

The legislation, HB 1003, allows nursing programs to make several changes. Current state policy limits how much they can increase enrollment – those limitations would be relaxed for programs with high passing rates. It also allows nursing programs to substitute some clinical training – working directly with patients – with simulation hours. And it allows two-year nursing programs to use predominantly part-time faculty, rather than full-time.

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Ivy Tech Community College Vice President Mary Jane Michalak said the school’s nursing program is hampered by a lack of available training opportunities and faculty.

“Hiring full-time faculty right now is very difficult because, if we hire more full-time faculty, we are pulling nurses out of the field," Michalak said. "And we are not helping our hospital and health care partners by doing that.”

But leaders from some of the state’s nursing schools oppose the bill. University of Indianapolis nursing school Dean Norma Hall objected to both reducing required full-time faculty and replacing clinical hours with simulation.

“By adopting these two elements, the state will create a situation wherein some nursing students will receive an inferior nursing education," Hall said. "And that should never, ever happen.”

Despite some committee members expressing doubts about the bill, it advanced unanimously to the Senate floor.

Contact reporter Brandon at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

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