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Kentucky Rep. Ken Fleming files measure aimed at building the state’s healthcare workforce

After months of working with stakeholders in healthcare and education, Rep. Ken Fleming filed HB 200, legislation aimed at creating a powerful public/private partnership to improve access to workforce training and education opportunities for those interested in pursuing a healthcare career.

“Employers across the state and nation are struggling to find workers who are ready, willing, and able to join the workforce and I know there are a number of efforts to address this. HB 200 is focused on one critical area, healthcare,” Fleming said. “This measure addresses Kentucky’s persistent shortage of health care professionals by incentivizing health care education and licensing programs, healthcare industry partners and the Commonwealth to collaborate to quickly strengthen education and training pipelines of health care professions to better serve patients.”

Aaron Thompson, president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, added, “One of the best things about this legislation is that it creates a partnership with employers, other public partners, and higher education to address both immediate and future healthcare needs. It creates a sustainable, systematic approach that will benefit all of Kentucky and all of its citizens.”

Rep. Ken Fleming (Photo from LRC)

According to Fleming, HB 200 would establish the framework for an innovative public/private partnership to incentivize talent development and training. Funding for this program, to be used for scholarships and financial support to healthcare training programs, will be considered in the next budget cycle. The framework will operate as the Kentucky Healthcare Workforce Investment Fund (KHWIF) and be administered by the Council on Post-Secondary Education (CPE). The fund would provide a dollar-for-dollar match with healthcare partners for healthcare training scholarships for Kentucky residents and for healthcare program incentives to reward excellence among healthcare education and training programs.

Workforce shortages have plagued the healthcare industry for several years. However, like other industries, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the issue.

“What was a concern prior to the pandemic has grown to crisis level with thousands of jobs unfilled. These are folks on the front line of health care, including in emergency rooms, long-term care facilities, doctor’s offices, and dental offices,” Fleming added.

According to a 2022 survey by the Kentucky Hospital Association, Kentucky hospitals alone have more than 13,000 job openings. The same survey data shows that there are more than 5,000 registered nurse (RN) and licensed practical nurse (LPN) hospital vacancies; 53% of those missing RN’s belong in emergency rooms. Kentucky is not alone in facing this, national numbers show a shortage of about one million healthcare workers according to information provided last fall by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education.

Jennifer Wiseman, of the Kentucky Nurses Association, shared at a Capitol press conference on Wednesday, “We applaud the efforts made by legislators here in Kentucky who are willing to work with nursing leaders, healthcare organizations in both the private and public sectors, and professional associations to come up with real solutions to enact change within our healthcare environment. With regards to nursing, this legislation will help decrease financial barriers that are currently preventing qualified individuals from entering the nursing workforce pipeline.”

“Addressing our state’s ongoing workforce crisis continues to be a top priority for the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. Creating the Kentucky Healthcare Workforce Investment Fund through House Bill 200 will be a critical, industry-specific policy to meet the growing demand for skilled employees across the Commonwealth. Ensuring that we have a strong healthcare workforce is not only critical for the health and welfare of our citizens, it is a huge economic driver, creating thousands of jobs across the Commonwealth. We look forward to working with all stakeholders to help shepherd this bill through the legislative process,” Ashli Watts, President and CEO, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce said.

This approach builds on a successful model in Florida and takes an unprecedented approach by expanding the breadth of healthcare professionals. Scholarships would be available to those pursuing a career in a variety of fields, including but not limited to: nursing, nursing aids, mental health professionals, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, dental hygienist, and others. In addition, the bill prioritizes healthcare scholarships in geographic areas underserved by healthcare professionals and small businesses.

“While our focus is on growing the workforce to make sure we have access to quality healthcare, this can also be an incredible tool to provide Kentuckians with an opportunity to start a good paying career,” Fleming said.s

From Kentucky Today

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