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Opinion: Utah lawmakers put nursing’s future on the right path

A $2 million appropriation will support education programs for certified nursing assistants, licensed practical nurses, surgical techs and associate degrees in nursing

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Utah lawmakers this year gave $2 million to help nursing education programs in the state.

Utah lawmakers approved $2 million to support education programs for certified nursing assistants, licensed practical nurses, surgical techs and associate degrees in nursing, which will help provide for the state’s future medical needs.

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If we’ve learned anything over the last two years, it’s that an investment in skilled, caring and passionate health care workers is something that benefits all of us. For that reason, I’m delighted to thank all those who came together to ensure that the Healthcare Workforce Initiative was included in the state’s budget.

During its most recent session, the Utah Legislature earmarked$2 million in funds to help Utah’s higher education institutions provide more opportunities for incoming health care professionals to launch their careers. In particular, the fund will support education programs for certified nursing assistants, licensed practical nurses, surgical techs, and associate degrees in Nursing.

MountainStar Healthcare wishes to thank Senate and House leadership, especially Sen. Ann Milner, R-Ogden, who sponsored this appropriation request and invited me to speak to the Higher Education subcommittee about the need for more health care talent in Utah.

As the chief nursing executive for MountainStar Healthcare, I see every day just how dedicated our nurses are to caring for the people of the Beehive State. The thousands of health care professionals in our state — including more than 2,000 MountainStar nurses — have responded to challenge after challenge and continue to demonstrate the passion and excellence that Utahns trust for nearly a million annual health care interactions.

At the same time, I know they need help. We and our parent company, HCA Healthcare, continue to work with our nurses, techs and clinicians to enhance the tools and technology they use to care for patients and improve lives. We also provide resources such as Nurse Care, which offers care to our caregivers in the form of free, confidential support.

But nothing will help quite as much as refilling the pipeline with more mission-driven, talented individuals who can join them in meeting the rising need for health care services in one of the fastest growing states in the nation.

Nurse and clinician staffing remains a challenge in Utah and around the country, and the Healthcare Workforce Initiative will help us address that.

Our state has a number of excellent nursing schools and health care tech education programs focused on preparing the next generation of caregivers. We collaborate with many of them, including by providing students with opportunities to advance their education within our eight Utah hospitals from Logan to Payson.

More than 4,400 Utah nursing students gained experience at MountainStar Healthcare hospitals in 2021, and we’ll continue to offer clinical rotation hours to support our higher education partners in fulfilling program requirements as part of this education investment by the state.

HCA Healthcare has also made it a priority to invest in developing and supporting nurses across the nation, including by acquiring a majority stake in Galen School of Nursing in 2020. We’ve since announced seven new campuses nationwide as we continue to focus on preparing nurses for today’s workforce and helping them meet the needs of patients and communities.

If you are interested in joining me in this fulfilling work of caring for our fellow Utahns, I encourage you to visit those programs’ websites for more information.

This initiative is a big win for people looking to start a meaningful career caring for others, and for my existing nurse colleagues who will benefit from standing shoulder-to-shoulder with more great people.

It’s also a win for all Utahns. This financial commitment from the Legislature will help institutions in Utah prepare enough well-trained clinicians so that health care organizations can continue to care for the growing number of people in our state, including your family, your neighbors and you.

We look forward to working with our education partners, health care colleagues and state leaders on workforce issues and other strategic solutions that will ensure Utahns have access to the best care possible.

Jen Wagenaar is the chief nursing executive with MountainStar Healthcare.