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January 29, 2002

CONTACT: Elizabeth Hirst
(850) 488-5394

Governor Bush Announces His Support for Legislation Addressing Critical Nursing Shortage

TALLAHASSEE — Governor Jeb Bush, joined by Lt. Governor Frank Brogan, held a press conference today to announce his support for the Nursing Shortage Solution Act, sponsored by Representative Sandra Murman, of Tampa, and Senator Burt L. Saunders, of Naples. While the entire country is experiencing a nursing shortage, Florida is at a critical point, facing extraordinary challenges in providing health care.

"The growing number of new Floridians and the aging of our state's population continue to uniquely stress the health care system," Governor Bush said. "Though most states are experiencing fewer hospital admissions, Florida hospitals are seeing 3 to 5 percent growth per-year in the number of patients treated in hospitals. Almost half of these patients are 65 years or older, and typically require more nursing care."

The House version of the bill (HB519), as amended in committee today, is supported by the Florida Board of Nursing, the Florida Nurses Association and the Florida Hospital Association, and addresses the following:

  • Promotes private sector retention and recruitment activities, the bill provides $1 million for matching grants to hospitals for nurse retention and recruitment;

  • Encourages more students to enter the nursing field, the bill creates the Sunshine Workforce Solutions Grant Program to help fund the operational costs associated with establishing a course of study at the middle school or high school level for students considering a career in nursing;

  • Attracts nurses to move to Florida, the bill expands the current licensure by endorsement law to allow nurses licensed in territories of the United States to obtain a Florida nursing license without having to retake examinations. Current endorsement law only includes nurses from other states;

  • Expedites licensure by endorsement, the bill streamlines current law to allow nurses to practice under a provisional license for up to 6 months while awaiting background screening results; and

  • Makes the state's nursing scholarship programs more attractive, the bill updates the Nursing Loan Forgiveness and Scholarship programs to standardize and reduce the loan repayment penalties for a student who defaults on a loan. Current law provides that students who default to pay 18 percent interest rate on their loan. The programs are administered by the Department of Health and funded through the $5 fee levied on each nursing license.

"The nursing shortage in our state is increasing and we do not want this community issue to turn into a public health issue. Florida will need 34,000 new nurses by the year 2006 and this bill will give Florida a better way to recruit and retain quality new nurses," said Representative Sandra Murman.

"Florida is facing a severe and increasing nursing shortage that is affecting the quality of healthcare of all Floridians in all healthcare settings. This legislation addresses this critical nursing shortage by increasing the number of nursing students in our universities, encouraging students to consider the benefits of a career in nursing, and providing financial incentives to study nursing. We are all healthcare consumers, and the quality of those services is dependent upon having more highly trained nurses," said Senator Burt L. Saunders, who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate.

Governor Bush is recommending $500,000 for the Sunshine Workforce Solutions Grant Program. In addition, the Governor's 2002-03 budget includes $5 million in funding for workforce training within the state's Community Colleges to increase programs in two critical areas: nursing and teaching.

The Florida Hospital Association estimates that there are currently 9,000 vacant nursing positions in Florida, and there will be a need for 34,000 more nurses by 2006, reflecting an 18 percent vacancy rate.

Nursing is the nation's largest health care profession with more than 2.5 million licensed registered nurses in the U.S., but Florida's supply of Registered Nurses (RN) has not kept up with the aging population. In July 2001, Florida had nearly 170,000 licensed RNs, representing almost a 10 percent decline in the last six years. While the state has the highest percentage of elderly citizens in the nation, it ranks 31st in the number of RNs per 100,000 population.

Joining the Governor and Lt. Governor at today's press conference were Representative Sandra Murman, Senator Anna Cowin of Leesburg, Secretary of the Florida Department of Health, Dr. John Agwanobi, as well as representatives from the Florida Nurses Association, Florida Board of Nursing, the Florida Hospital Association, and Florida State University's School of Nursing.