Vermont allotted $22.6 million for nursing incentive programs in 2023; yet as of late November it had only spent $2.6 million.
Vermont State Auditor Doug Hoffer’s December 2023 report reached this conclusion, even as state legislature has made significant investments into Vermont’s nursing workforce; only a fraction of funds have reached actual nurses in Vermont.
Hoffer stated in his report: It is essential that limited funds be spent wisely so as to attract and retain nurses while simultaneously maximising their contribution to our health care workforce.
The Nursing Shortage in Vermont
Many states are currently facing an acute nursing shortage; according to NurseJournal research, our country currently had 9.22 registered nurses per 1,000 population as of 2022.
Vermont reports slightly higher numbers, at 10.71 Registered Nurses per 1000 people; with its population of 647,000 residents, that amounts to under 7,000 registered nurses across Vermont’s hospitals – leaving short staffing issues across hospitals throughout its borders.
Hospitals increasingly rely on travel nurses to meet staffing needs; yet these temporary employees cost almost double than permanent staff members. Vermont hospitals reportedly spent an estimated total of $357 Million from 2021-2023 according to Vermont state auditor’s reports on these costs alone.
At an additional financial cost, temporary travel nurses hinder retention efforts of permanent staff due to higher salaries of travel nurses. By cutting spending on travel nurses hospitals can invest more into recruitment and retention of Vermont nurses locally.
Vermont can reduce its reliance on travel nurses by encouraging nursing students and nurses to utilize Vermont’s nursing incentive programs, thus encouraging more Vermonters to benefit from them.
Vermont Nursing Incentive Programs
Vermont nursing incentive programs represent an important investment in its healthcare workforce. According to reports, in 2023 the state legislature appropriated $22.6 million specifically to address Vermont’s nursing workforce needs. Through these incentive programs financial support is given for nursing students, advanced practice nurses, current nurses and faculty in addition to supporting academic endeavors for nursing educators.
Most programs come with a service commitment. Recipients typically agree to work for one year in Vermont in exchange for every scholarship or loan forgiveness received.
The state’s nursing incentive programs include:
- Healthcare Workforce Scholarships: Vermont residents attending nursing school qualify for full tuition at in-state public colleges or up to in-state tuition to attend a private or out-of-state college; full tuition at a VT public institution or up to UVM’s in-state tuition at a VT private or out-of-state institution. Recipients agree to work as a nurse for one year in Vermont.
- Educational Loan Repayment Program for Health Professionals: Nurses working at eligible sites in Vermont qualify for up to $50,000 in loan repayment. The program comes with a 1-2 year service obligation.
- Nurse Faculty Program: Nursing students training to become nurse faculty and current nurse faculty qualify for full tuition or up to $50,000 in loan repayment. Recipients agree to teach at a Vermont nursing school for each year of their award.
- Vermont Health Care Professional Loan Repayment Program: Current nurses working at eligible Vermont locations qualify for up to $15,000 in loan repayment. The program comes with a service obligation of one year for each year of loan forgiveness.
- Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Programs: Vermont’s programs for advanced practice nurses specializing in mental health offer full-tuition scholarships and forgivable loans. Recipients must practice for one year in Vermont for each year of the award.
These programs provide substantial assistance to nurses by covering tuition or forgiving up to $50,000 of loans; however, the state only allocated $11.2 million of funds through these programs in 2023 while spending only $2.6 million of it, according to a report released this year.
Hoffer told WCAX, “what we have now is an array of uncoordinated programs with minimal performance measures of any use and inconsistent implementation that does not reflect what’s happening within hospitals.
Vermont State Auditor’s Suggestions for Nursing Incentive Program Improvement
Vermont State Auditor Doug Hoffer issued his December 2023 report and recommended new policies and procedures in order to enhance nursing incentive programs across Vermont.
Hoffer suggested more comprehensive reporting and assessment procedures, with performance metrics for measuring each program’s success. He further advised standardizing service obligations, performance measures and reporting requirements across programs – suggesting hospitals that offer recruitment/retention programs be coordinated with to further their efforts.
Hoffer advises Vermont nurses who have since left or practice in other states to reach out and contact any that have left Vermont, since these nurses could offer important insight to further Vermont recruitment efforts.
Encouraging nursing students to study in Vermont benefits both them and the state. Hoffer told WCAX that Vermont nursing students learn about and establish roots here, making it more likely they stay. By investing in Vermont’s nursing incentive programs, Vermont hopes to invest in its future workforce.