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University of Louisville School of Nursing Will Use $6.5 Million Grants to Expand Healthcare in Kentucky

Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
Updated January 4, 2024
Edited by
    Kentucky faces a severe nursing shortage. Two federal grants will help improve healthcare access in underserved areas.
    Small rural town in KentuckyCredit: Getty Images
    • Over 40% of Kentuckians live in nonmetro areas, creating barriers to healthcare access.
    • UofL will use two federal grants to expand Kentucky’s nursing workforce.
    • The grants will support nursing students who will serve vulnerable and rural populations.

    Like many states, Kentucky is facing a severe nurse shortage. But help is on the way from the University of Louisville (UofL) School of Nursing, which recently received $6.5 million in federal grants to help address the problem.

    With separate grants awarded by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the school plans to expand the training capacity “pipeline” in its LPN-to-BSN and nurse practitioner programs.

    The ultimate goal for the school and university — which also operates UofL Health, an academic health system in the state encompassing eight hospitals and four medical centers, including hundreds of physicians and other medical offices — is improving healthcare access, particularly in underserved areas.

    “These kinds of workforce pipeline grants are truly transformative and will make a lasting and tangible impact on the health and wellness of Kentuckians for generations to come,” said University of Louisville Interim Provost Gerry Bradley in a statement.

    Kentucky Healthcare Access: A Serious Issue

    Healthcare access is a significant problem across the country, including in Kentucky. The Bluegrass State is home to 120 counties, and 113 of those counties — or about 94% — are considered Health Professional Shortage Areas.

    The shortage of healthcare providers is particularly acute in rural areas. Over 40% of Kentucky’s population lives in nonmetro areas, according to the Rural Health Information Hub. Twenty-eight critical access hospitals serve more than 1.8 million rural Kentuckians.

    When forced to seek care in urban or suburban areas, rural residents face additional barriers. In 2022, survey data showed that long travel times and similar obstacles keep many Kentuckians from accessing even basic care, such as annual wellness checkups.

    UofL Health has invested in underserved areas by opening new facilities that combine urgent care and primary care. In 2023, UofL Health opened the first inpatient acute care hospital in Bullitt County, the 10th-most populous in the state.

    Staffing these new facilities means addressing the healthcare provider and nurse shortages. By supporting nursing students who will work in these underserved areas, the $6.5 million grants will benefit Kentuckians.

    “These programs support opportunities to enhance clinical training and bring superior nursing care to all corners of the Commonwealth, from rural Appalachia to urban Jefferson County to rural western Kentucky counties,” said School of Nursing Interim Dean Mary DeLetter, Ph.D., RN, in a statement.

    Louisville Nursing: New Grants and a New Plan

    The first HRSA grant, awarded for $3.9 million, will go toward the Louisville School of Nursing’s undergraduate and pre-licensure programs, specifically funding an accelerated LPN-to-BSN program for nurses in Kentucky’s underserved areas. The school will partner with the Kentucky Community & Technical College System and three health systems in the state to launch the program.

    As part of the grant, UofL plans to award scholarships to as many as 83 nursing students pursuing a BSN degree.

    “Our objective is to address the shortage of practice-ready registered nurses by increasing access to baccalaureate nursing education across Kentucky,” explained Interim Associate Dean Heather Mitchell, who oversees UofL’s undergraduate and pre-licensure programs, in the statement announcing the grants.

    The second HRSA grant of $2.6 million will fund doctor of nursing practice (DNP) and advanced practice registered nurses (APRN) programs designed to foster diversity and equity in the state’s healthcare and healthcare workforce. Using the grant funding, school faculty and administrators will support candidates from underrepresented and disadvantaged backgrounds, particularly those specializing in primary care and mental health.

    “We want the nurse practitioner (NP) workforce to more closely mirror the population of Kentucky in terms of diversity and enable NPs from rural areas in the state to earn an APRN degree and provide high quality health care in their own rural areas across the Commonwealth,” said Sara Robertson, interim associate dean of the DNP and APRN programs, in the school’s statement.

    According to Robertson, as one of the largest nursing schools in Kentucky, University of Louisville School of Nursing is well positioned to address the state’s shortage of advanced practice health providers.

    “To be able to offer scholarships for students whose dream is to work with vulnerable and rural populations is impactful,” Robertson said. “This funding will help make their dreams of becoming a nurse practitioner a reality and at the same time, improve access to quality health care across the state of Kentucky.”

    Louisville will begin implementing the programs shortly — and the impacts, officials said, could be felt for decades.

    “When I think about the impact we will have on nurses’ and patients’ lives, and for generations to come, knowing that we are making a difference out in those communities is so meaningful to me,” said Mitchell. “This is why I do what I do.”