KANSAS CITY — Gov. Jay Nixon said a program designed to increase health care education in Missouri will be a first step to addressing the shortage of health care workers in the state.
During a visit to the University of Missouri-Kansas City on Thursday, Nixon touted the "Caring for Missourians" program, which directs $40 million to the state universities, colleges and community colleges for more health care classes, teachers and equipment. He also stopped in Springfield later in the day.
"We are facing a critical shortage of health care workers in the state of Missouri today," Nixon said while in Kansas City. "These are high paying, high demand careers in which motivated students willing to go the extra mile are necessary to stand up to the training."
The program, approved during the last legislative session, would divide the $40 million between 26 institutions, ranging from $135,000 for Crowder Community College to $24 million for the four-campus University of Missouri System. The goal is to fund 916 more health care graduates over five years.
Lora Lacey-Haun, the dean of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Nursing, said the school had to turn away more than 100 qualified applicants for its bachelor's of science nursing program last week — about 57 percent of the applicants.
The nursing school plans to use its share of the program's money to offer accelerated undergraduate programs and expand its graduate program for those who want to be nursing faculty, she said.
Nixon said the shortage is in a myriad of health care professions, including doctors, pharmacists and dental hygienists. He said 79 of Missouri's 114 counties are health-professional shortage areas that do not meet federal guidelines.
"If we're going to meet this critical demand, we've got to create the jobs for tomorrow," he said. "We've got to get started today."
Under the program, each institution has been asked to create a plan to invest the dollars in programs that will increase the number of students, although the law does not technically require the schools to spend the money on health care.
It contains no scholarship money and does not it require the new health care graduates to stay in Missouri. And Nixon acknowledged that many hospitals, particularly in rural areas, don't have the money to hire any new workers.
"Sure we need to do more for health care," Nixon said. "But if we don't have the basic backbone of professional service and trained workers, we will never be able to move forward in health care. And making sure we have this base done now is vitally important."