Legislature(2005 - 2006)BUTROVICH 205
03/06/2006 01:30 PM Senate HEALTH, EDUCATION & SOCIAL SERVICES
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SB 8-NURSE EDUC LOAN REPAYMENT PROGRAM CHAIR DYSON announced SB 8 to be up for consideration. 2:53:32 PM SENATOR HOLLIS FRENCH, sponsor of SB 8, said SB 8 was designed to help stem the shortage of nurses in the State of Alaska by establishing a tuition loan reimbursement program. Under the program, nurses who work in the State of Alaska would receive $2,000 per year from the state to devote towards their outstanding student loans. SENATOR FRENCH informed the committee that there was an estimated shortage of 9,000 to 11,000 nurses in the state at the present time. The Alaska Department of Commerce expects the shortage to continue to grow until the year 2010. He remarked that providing incentives for nurses to work in the state is particularly important because there is a nationwide shortage. CHAIR DYSON asked Senator French whether he had reviewed the fiscal note for the bill. SENATOR FRENCH replied that he had and added that it is a small price to pay to have well-staffed hospitals and clinics throughout Alaska. He added that it is possible to reduce the size of the proposed program. CHAIR DYSON asked whether the fiscal note was based on a worst- case scenario. SENATOR FRENCH deferred the question to the author of the fiscal note. He added that he took issue with the assumption in the fiscal note that the state would grow at the rate of three percent a year since that was low in comparison to the predictions of the Department of Commerce. 2:57:55 PM SENATOR OLSON asked Senator French whether the state would incur greater costs if it does not address the nursing shortage. SENATOR FRENCH replied that he could not offer a numerical comparison, but added that the state would incur significant expenses related to travel and overtime if it does not address the shortage. SENATOR OLSON commented that Nome incurred significant expenses when its hospital was shut down due to a nursing shortage and had to Med-evac patients to Anchorage. SENATOR WILKEN remarked that while he appreciated the intent of the bill, he was wary of offering loan forgiveness programs due to their tendency to create excessive expenses for the state. He said the shortage could be addressed in more cost effective ways such as offering low-interest housing. 3:02:00 PM PATRICIA SENNER, Executive Director, Alaska Nurses Association, testified in support of the bill. She said she believes that the fiscal note is overstated because it is unlikely that 70 percent of the graduating nursing students would be in debt. She remarked that the bill was not a mandate because it grants awards based on the amount of money available from interest on state student loans. 3:04:17 PM CHAIR DYSON questioned whether a $2,000 per-year incentive would effectively entice nurses to come to the state. MS. SENNER replied that the bill would give the Nursing Board some flexibility to focus the program's funds as an incentive to place nurses in areas where they are under-represented. 3:07:02 PM VIRGINIA WERTHWEIN, Nurse, testified in support of SB 8. She said the hospital where she works often couldn't staff the ICU, ER, or labor delivery unit when one of the nurses called in sick. She said that the nursing workforce is aging and the shortage will worsen if the state does not attract more young nurses. LAURA WILKE testified in support of SB 8. She remarked that nursing journals regularly feature ads for recruitment that offer far more than nurses are able to make in Alaska. She remarked that although $2,000 per year seems insignificant, passing the bill would send a message that the Legislature appreciates the services that nurses are able to provide. CHAIR DYSON held the bill in committee.