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ANDERSON — Hospitals and other health care facilities across the nation are in the midst of a nursing shortage during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Throughout the pandemic, nurses have left their jobs in search of other careers. While some nurses made the switch to become travel nurses due to the increased income, others have left the field entirely.

Before the pandemic, the state of Indiana had approximately 4,300 registered nurse positions available each year. According to Mary Jane Michalak, vice president of public affairs at Ivy Tech Community College, Ivy Tech graduates approximately 1,300 nursing students each year, and all other nursing programs around the state combined graduate approximately 1,600 a year.

This gap leaves, on average, 1,400 open nursing jobs across the state each year.

With the aging population of the United States, this shortage was expected. However, the pandemic made the need come sooner than expected.

Marsha Meckel, vice president of clinical services and chief nursing executive at Community Hospital Anderson and Community Hospital Howard, said that the Anderson campus has not experienced this shortage as bad as other facilities.

According to the Associated Press, Community Health Network currently has over 600 nursing positions open. Approximately 30 of those open positions are at Community Hospital Anderson.

“We haven’t had as many of the staffing issues as some places, so that’s been helpful because as much as people are tired and burnt out, they do a good job picking up for one another to help those shortages,” said Allison Wilson , registered nurse and emergency room educator at Community Hospital Anderson.

Ascension St. Vincent Anderson staff declined to be interviewed about their current staffing.

In the 2022 Indiana General Assembly, House Bill 1003 was introduced to try and combat the nursing shortage.

Currently, nursing programs are only able to admit as many students as they have clinical spaces. Clinicals, supervised practice in local health care facilities, are required of all nursing students. Most of these clinicals are done in person at local hospitals. However, a percentage can be done via simulations.

Simulations are done in the classroom and allow students to practice scenarios on manikins. Simulations also allow for students to practice scenarios that they might not encounter during in-person clinicals, such as childbirth.

“We can mimic healthcare situations, maybe a unique type of situation that you don’t see very often,” said Lynn Schmidt, dean of Anderson University’s college of nursing and kinesiology. “You need to know how to respond to it.”

Schmidt also noted that simulations are a safe space where students are allowed to make mistakes.

If HB 1003 is passed, it will allow for more of nursing students clinical hours to come from simulations.

“It gives us a little bit more flexibility to help give students different kinds of experience,” said Mia Johnson, Ivy Tech Anderson campus chancellor.

HB 1003 will also allow for nurses who hold bachelor’s degrees to teach associate level nursing courses, but they must also be enrolled in a master’s degree program. Other provisions of the bill will allow for up to 50% of nursing school educators to be part-time, while currently the State Board of Nursing requires the majority of faculty to be full-time.

“The shortage is also affecting educators,” Johnson said. “The ability for us to have part-time educators allows folks to still stay in the field and help educate students… It just opens up more options for us if they don’t have to be full-time.”

This school year, Ivy Tech had to turn away 300 applicants. Michalak credited this to the lack of clinical spaces available and the lack of qualified faculty. If the bill is passed, she said, it will pave a way for Ivy Tech to admit more nursing students in the future.

HB 1003 passed the House of Representatives 91-2 on Jan. 21 and has been referred to the Senate.

To help their student nurses land a job in the healthcare field after graduation, both AU and Ivy Tech have partnerships with local hospitals.

AU is beginning an academic practice partnership with Community Hospital Anderson to have a dedicated education unit.

The dedicated education partnership was meant to start sooner, but Meckel said it got pushed back due to COVID-19.

“The idea is that then the students will, after graduation, continue on and work at Community Anderson,” Schmidt said.

Students will be assigned a unit and paired with a preceptor for the duration of their clinicals. The preceptors will watch the student and identify learning opportunities for the student and help them overcome obstacles.

AU also partners with Ascension St. Vincent for nursing clinical opportunities.

Ivy Tech’s Anderson campus partners with Community Hospital Anderson, Ascension St. Vincent of Anderson and Hancock Regional Hospital for clinicals.

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