Gov. David Ige on Thursday released $1.75 million in state funds to the University of Hawaii, which will use the money to create 39 nursing instructor positions on campuses statewide to ease a severe nursing shortage.

The new positions will help double the university’s intake of nursing students as it will now be able to accept 230 more students into the program, UH officials said. The university said it had to deny some 65% of applicants last year because of the lack of instructors.

The state has long grappled with staffing shortages because of recruitment and retention problems, but the coronavirus pandemic heightened those challenges, with many nurses leaving or considering leaving the profession.

The $1.75 million will fund 39 instructor positions to allow the University of Hawaii to accept more nursing students. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

“Nursing and health care access are critical to public safety,” Ige said Thursday at a press conference. “No point was made stronger than during the last two and half years or so of the scope of this Covid pandemic.”

Hawaii currently has 1,000 vacancies for nurses, according to the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. State labor data also predicts an anticipated demand for nurses of 110 positions each year through 2030.

Laura Reichhardt, director of the Hawaii State Center for Nursing, said that more nursing faculty is needed to train upcoming nurses in the state.

“This is a great first step, and it’s so appreciated,” Reichardt said in an interview.

Hawaii State Center for Nursing Director Laura Reichhardt called the funding a “great first step” in addressing the nursing shortage. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Reichhardt said 442 nursing students graduated from public and private university programs last year. She added that the state needs at least 500 more nurses “to meet our nursing workforce needs.”

The funding is part of Ige’s state budget request, passed by the Legislature earlier this year.

UH President David Lassner said the money will go to programs with the most needs.

UH Manoa will receive more than $350,000 for eight positions, UH Hilo will get more than $530,000 for 12 positions and community colleges that fall under the UH umbrella will get more than $842,000 for 19 positions.

Lassner said that 60% of the more than 700 nursing students graduate from the university each year. Last year, 260 LPNs and RNs graduated from UH, he added.

“It’s a substantial number of what we need, but it’s not all that we need,” Lassner said, adding that UH has approximately 770 nursing students. “This is a huge, huge boost to our capacity and ability to serve the state.”

UH currently has 184 faculty and instructors, according to Reichhardt.

UH Manoa Nancy Atmospera-Walch Interim Dean Clementina Ceria-Ulep speaks during press conference regarding funding of nursing educators outside Webster Hall at the UH Manoa campus.
UH Manoa Nancy Atmospera-Walch Interim Dean Clementina Ceria-Ulep said the funding will help offload work from existing faculty. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Clementina Ceria-Ulep, interim dean of the UH Manoa Nancy Atmospera-Walch School of Nursing, said the funding would help offload work from other faculty, who had to teach extra courses and students.

The department recruits lecturers from its clinical partners, or nurses already in the field, Ceria-Ulep said.

The university has launched two new nursing programs in response to the faculty shortage and nursing shortage.

UH will offer a master’s program in nursing education in leadership and a graduate certificate in nursing education program in the 2023 fall semester. Ceria-Ulep said applications for the programs are open.

“With this funding for additional nursing instructor positions and professional development for them, we are turning in a direction that shows promise of improvement and commitment to support this vital and critical specialty within nursing,” Ceria-Ulep said.

Civil Beat’s health coverage is supported by the Atherton Family Foundation, Swayne Family Fund of Hawaii Community Foundation, Cooke Foundation and Papa Ola Lokahi.

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