SE Texas colleges hope to create space for 200 more nursing students

The massive $ 1.9 trillion US bailout law was passed in March of this year in part to help Americans recover from the impact of COVID-19, but much of its funding was intended to help make communities stronger for the future.

Today, after months of nominations and planning, a coalition of Southeastern Texas universities and healthcare providers is rallying to present their million-dollar federal stimulus plan that they say could change the economic landscape of the region.

The American Rescue Plan has set aside $ 1 billion in funding for the Build Back Better Challenge – a program run by the US Economic Development Association with a mission to award 20 to 30 coalitions up to $ 100 million in grants for economic projects.

The EDA announced the successful candidates in late October, compiling a list of 529 candidates from across the country with plans to improve their communities, including a coalition led by Lamar State College Port Arthur.

Ben Stafford, dean of workforce development at LSCPA and lead author of the app, said the LSCPA has rallied support from other local schools and healthcare providers to tackle the growing regional shortage nurses and support staff in medical facilities in the region.

“For us, that was the kind of perfect problem that could be solved by a program of this size,” Stafford said. “We can easily show that we have been negatively affected by COVID-19. We have a large unemployed population in this region and a large system of employers with a desperate need for employees. “

The proposed plan to strengthen the training and recruitment of healthcare professionals in Southeast Texas would involve the LSCPA, Lamar State College Orange, Lamar University, and the four major hospital systems covering Jefferson, Orange, and County counties. Chambers, Jasper, Newton and Hardin.

While the actual job will likely require millions of dollars and years of effort, Stafford said the coalition’s argument was pretty clear.

According to job applications and health survey data, Southeast Texas has 10% fewer nurses than it needs in urban areas and a 30% shortage in urban areas. rural areas.

This is an average gap of around 700 employees among the region’s nine primary health care providers, which Stafford says is costing some health systems more than $ 1 million per month in costs. employment contracts to partially close the gap.

There could be a number of factors and barriers that have helped create this deficit, but Stafford and the coalition pointed to a clear problem preventing colleges from training qualified nurses.

Due to a simple lack of space and infrastructure, colleges in the region reject an average of 28% of all applicants for professional nursing programs and 64% of applicants seeking a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Nursing.

If selected as part of the process, the initial plan outlines ways to increase the number of places for students by 200, while investing in improved hands-on learning and training spaces at local hospitals that will enable for these new health professionals to pursue their careers in Southeast Texas.

Local and educational health leaders now need to see if EDA agrees that their problem and solution meets the goals of the Build Back Better regional challenge.

“Designed to advance and accelerate a fair economic recovery, create well-paying jobs and build resilient regions across the country, the $ 1 billion regional Build Back Better challenge will invest in locally developed projects that depend on the ingenuity and American workers, and is one of the means by which the Biden administration will continue to improve the competitiveness of the United States on the world stage, “Assistant Secretary of Economic Development Alejandra Castillo said in a statement. .

The scope of the proposed projects is quite simple: find a way in which a region has been affected by COVID-19 in one of the program’s established categories, and come up with a plan with a group of stakeholders that could reverse these issues and prevent them. to happen in the future.

But since the real mechanics of these plans will likely be heroic endeavors, the challenge has been split into two phases.

Some 60 coalitions will receive up to $ 500,000 during the first phase of the challenge, which they will then use to establish what EDA calls “growth clusters” to improve the local economy and pave the way for the project. potential for regional change that they proposed.

Of those 50 to 60 coalitions, 20 to 30 will receive $ 25 to $ 100 million depending on the merits and impact of the plan.

City governments, tribal councils, community groups and a myriad of other coalitions have all presented similar cases in their applications.

While the Southeast Texas plan may have a one in 529 chance of being approved now, Stafford said the way the program is structured gives him hope that local leaders can prove their worth.

“If we get approval in the first phase, suddenly we have a 50% to select in the second phase and potentially change the local health landscape,” Stafford said.

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