ELLSWORTH — Officials from the University of Maine System were in Ellsworth on Oct. 16 to discuss plans they say will eventually bring more nurses to the region to address a projected shortfall.
“An aging population with aging nurses doesn’t make for a good recipe,” said Jonathan Henry, vice president of enrollment management and marketing for the University of Maine at Augusta, during a luncheon at the university’s Mill Mall campus.
Warnings that the state will be short several thousand nurses within the next decade have prompted calls to expand education programs, lower tuition and offer incentives for new nurses to settle in rural and underserved areas.
If all goes as planned, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree will be offered in Ellsworth beginning in fall 2019. Rockland, Rumford and Brunswick also will be part of the “rural cohort” program expansion. Officials hope reducing travel time for students and offering more options for clinical rotations will help keep graduates in areas where they’re needed.
“We know the strong link between what we’re doing with [UMA] … and feeding the local workforce at the hospitals,” said Deborah Meehan, executive director of the University of Maine at Augusta’s eight centers. “Our hope is that we’re bringing it back to the coast and they can do start to finish right there.”
“I see lots of people who have aspirations to be nurses,” said Meehan. “But the travel to campuses is prohibitive.”
There’s still a lot to be ironed out, including curriculum and accreditation. The programs must be approved by the Maine State Board of Nursing as well as the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing.
Brenda McAleer, dean of the college of professional studies at UMA, said she envisions no problems with the process.
“The bones of the programs are there,” she said. “I am fully confident that the Maine State Board of Nursing … will approve the program.”
Colleges are recruiting and taking names of interested students while waiting for approval.
McAleer also said UMA is one of a dozen nursing programs nationwide that is accredited by the American Holistic Nurses Credentialing Corp. Those programs involve “incorporating holistic outcomes” into practice, McAleer said.
Representatives from area hospitals and nursing homes were present to share thoughts and concerns. Many reiterated the problems — a shortage of nurses and nursing instructors, along with trouble recruiting and retaining staff in rural areas — as well as raising less talked-about issues.
Christine Riendeau, director of human resources at First Atlantic HealthCare, said she often hears of high school students who have been rejected from nursing programs because they aren’t up to speed in certain areas such as reading comprehension.
As an employer, Riendeau said she sees new nurses who lack the necessary leadership and computer skills when they get into the field.
“In this day and age it’s really kind of a surprise to me,” said Riendeau, regarding the computer skills.
“When they get onsite there’s still that barrier.”
Several officials and educators in the room responded that there are computer requirements to graduate, but Riendeau replied that “it’s still a problem.” She suggested there be tests to ensure nurses entering the workforce are appropriately computer literate.
Riendeau also said she has seen that the transition to electronic medical records [EMR] “has really impacted nurses’ critical thinking skills.”
“Really investing in ensuring people maintain those critical thinking skills” is important, Riendeau said. “Really driving them home.”