The need for more healthcare workers continues to grow in New Jersey – and nationwide – as our population ages, access to care expands, and more people commit to leading a healthy lifestyle. The fact that the current workforce is also growing older just adds to the dilemma.
To help address this coming need and plug existing shortages in nursing, behavioral health, and other areas, the federal Health and Human Services Administration awarded more than $960,000 to a half-dozen Garden State colleges that provide advanced training to key healthcare workers.
The funding is part of $149 million in federal grants that will be distributed nationwide and is targeted to help underserved communities and bolster the education of low-income and underrepresented students.
The bulk of the New Jersey’s share of the annual Health Workforce Awards for 2016 — more than $750,000 — will help nurses from underprivileged backgrounds pay off their student loans, if they go into nursing education.
Nearly two-thirds of the money will go to Kean University in Union and the rest to the doctoral program at Rutgers School of Nursing in Newark, which is getting almost $174,000, and William Paterson University in Wayne, which got close to $91,000. The schools will distribute the funds to students approved by the federal program.
Other awards include nearly $166,000 to Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Teaneck campus to help fund their graduate program in psychology. HHS also granted more than $41,000 to Rutgers and Our Lady of Lourdes Health Foundation in Camden to train nursing students as anesthetists.
State Sen. Richard Codey (D-Essex), a longtime advocate for better mental healthcare who has also served as governor, welcomed the announcement. “Now that we have Obamacare, we need to get more psychologists and psychiatrists in all areas of the state of New Jersey,” Codey said. “And obviously we’re looking for more and more nurses, as people live longer and there is more and more population in our nation.”
Codey and Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), the health committee chair, have teamed up on a bill that would create a new tuition-reimbursement program designed to encourage behavioral healthcare providers to work in underserved areas of New Jersey.
The proposal borrows from past efforts, including a program Codey implemented in 2005, during his 15 months as governor, to help social service workers repay their student loans. Rutgers University also operates a 25-year-old program that partially reimburses doctors, dentists, and other healthcare providers — but not mentalhealth workers — for their education if they set up shop in communities that lack medical care options.
Experts say there is a shortage of psychiatrists in New Jersey, particularly those trained to treat children and adolescents. The state is now backing a pilot program designed to link pediatricians with behavioral health providers in an effort to extend access to mental health services in particularly underserved areas. But funding for continuing the program was not included in the budget that took effect July 1.
Karen T. D’Alonzo, associate dean for nursing science at Rutgers, said the school is fortunate to receive the funding, which is used to help many of its doctoral students become faculty after graduating. These students are required to take three additional classes to help them prepare for their role as teachers, she said.
The latest round of funding will help fund eight new admissions to the program this fall, she said, and will help make it the largest class in several years. They are now accepting applications for several science-related tracks. “This program will allow talented students to begin the path to a career as a nurse scientist much sooner,” D’Alonzo said.
According to data compiled by the state Department of Labor, based on 2014 statistics, the number of healthcare workers age 65 or older has nearly tripled since 1997. By 2014, there were more doctors, nurses, and other providers between ages 55 and 64 than between 25 and 34. Based on the growing needs of our aging population, the healthcare industry is projected to add roughly 89,000 jobs by 2022.
The federal funding was distributed through a dozen programs operated by the Health Resources and Services Administration. In addition to the programs that will benefit New Jersey, money was invested in efforts to expand the number of primary care providers, help build research staff, and assist nontraditional healthcare students.
“These awards will help increase access to quality health care for all Americans by educating and training culturally competent providers who are prepared to practice in high-need areas,” said HRSA Acting Administrator Jim Macrae. “By encouraging partnerships among academic institutions, clinicians, health care sites and public health entities, we can improve health outcomes in underserved communities.”