Medical or nursing students use laptop while attending class for healthcare education
(Credit: Courtney Hale / Getty Images)

Community colleges and universities would receive $1.2 billion in grants to boost the number of students enrolled in accredited, two-year registered nursing programs if a bill introduced into the Senate on Thursday is passed into law as written.

The funds under the Primary Care and Health Workforce Act also could be used to expand the number of qualified preceptors at clinical rotation sites, provide direct support for students, support partnerships with health facilities for clinical training, purchase distance learning technology and simulation equipment, and other capital projects.

In all, proponents estimate that the measure would enable schools to train up to 60,000 additional nurses.

The proposed allocation is part of a broader $26 billion bill introduced by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Roger Marshall (R-KS) that is meant to address the “major shortages of nurses, primary care doctors, and other important healthcare jobs across the country,” according to a press release from Sanders. The legislation is expected to be marked up on Thursday in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

Within the next two years, the United States will need 200,000 to 450,000 additional nurses, according to recent estimates cited by Sanders.

“We believe this investment will save Medicaid and Medicare tens of billions of dollars and, more importantly, provide improved healthcare outcomes for all Americans,” Marshall said.

The proposed legislation also would provide funds to additional nurse educators into the field. The bill would set aside $28.5 million in annual discretionary appropriations in fiscal years 2024 through 2026, as well as $28.5 million per year for three years, through a one-time mandatory supplemental, to support approximately 1,000 new nurse faculty entering the workforce each year. After three years, more than 3,000 graduates with the intent to teach will have entered the workforce as a result of this provision if the bill becomes law, according to Sanders.

Fitch Ratings’ latest monthly labor dashboard for senior living and care noted that providers across the sector still are recovering from labor challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Staffing in continuing care retirement / life plan communities remains 7.4% below pre-pandemic levels, and the skilled nursing workforce is down 10% from pre-pandemic levels. Staffing in assisted living communities, by comparison, has rebounded to approximately 4% above pre-pandemic levels, Fitch said.