ELLSWORTH — In an effort to address the state’s shortage of nurses, University of Maine officials unveiled a plan to double enrollment and expand nursing degree programs in several rural areas, including Ellsworth.
The plans were announced during a summit on aging in Augusta on Sept. 12.
A Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree will be offered at the University of Maine at Augusta’s Mill Mall campus beginning in fall 2019 as part of the expansion.
The new degree program is part of an effort to address a growing problem. The state is expected to be short 3,200 workers by 2025, according to a report from the Maine Nursing Action Coalition and the university system.
“We’re thrilled for the students but also it’s a great thing for the community,” said Ann Delaney, director of the University of Maine at Augusta’s Ellsworth center. “Your mom or dad or loved one is not only being [going to be] taken care of by someone who’s very well-trained but is also part of the place where they live.”
“I think it’ll increase enrollment,” said Delaney, “especially for nursing and all the courses that support what students need to know for that program.”
The “strategic, statewide response” includes doubling nursing enrollment and expanding programs to rural areas “with the most urgent need.”
“We face this shortage statewide,” said University of Maine System Chancellor James Page, speaking to an audience at the Wisdom Summit in Augusta last Wednesday. “But it’s particularly acute in rural areas.”
There are hundreds of positions open statewide, said Page. Meanwhile, he said, qualified nursing school applicants are being turned away because of lack of facilities and teachers to train them.
Ellsworth is one of four rural areas where the BSN program will be offered beginning in 2019. The other communities are Brunswick, Rockland and Rumford. These areas have been targeted because they have “the largest number of nurses approaching retirement age,” according to a press release from the university. Forty-eight percent of registered nurses in Hancock County are 55 or older, according to the release.
The plan also involves free education for certain Maine students “with the greatest financial need.” Those who qualify for federal Pell Grants will be eligible. Students also will need to meet other requirements to qualify for the tuition break, such as maintaining a minimum grade point average and taking a certain number of credits.
There’s a catch to all of this: some of the investments are pending voter approval of Question 4, the “University Workforce Bond,” which would authorize $49 million in general obligation bonds for the construction and remodeling of existing and new facilities within the University of Maine System. Of those funds, $12 million would be invested in the nursing program, according to a press release from the university.
The measure has a pretty good chance of passing, considering that Maine voters approved 97 percent of bond measures between 2007 and 2017, according to Ballotpedia, a website that bills itself as a nonpartisan “political encyclopedia.” (Voters rejected just one bond in the period, a 2012 measure that would have supported expanding the community college system in the state.) Voters approved bonds totaling $1.1 billion over the past decade.
Officials have been discussing how to address the state’s nursing shortage for several years. Maine’s aging population is contributing to the crisis, but so is a lack of teachers: only 8.7 percent of Maine nurses have a master’s degree, which is required to teach nursing. The state must graduate an additional 400 students each year and attract another 265 from out of state to meet the need, according to the Maine Nursing Action Coalition and university system report.