West Virginia Governor Announces $20 Million Expansion of Nursing Education Programs

Gayle Morris, MSN
Updated August 4, 2023
    West Virginia announced more funding for the Nursing Workforce Expansion Program that aggressively addresses the state's nursing shortage.
    New River Gorge Bridge in West VirginiaCredit: Getty Images
    • West Virginia’s Nursing Workforce Expansion Program aims to aggressively address the nursing shortage and graduate 2,200 more nurses in the next four years.
    • The program’s approach includes recruiting, retaining, and expanding the number of nurses in the state.
    • The hope is that by continually feeding the pipeline with new nursing students, the state can significantly impact the nursing shortage.

    West Virginia Governor Jim Justice announced the state would contribute $20 million in the state budget to the successful Nursing Workforce Expansion Program. The program was initially launched in December 2021 with a $48 million budget, which included $26 million to develop nursing education programs. During the first year, West Virginia admitted 810 new nursing students.

    The program hopes to address the significant shortage of healthcare professionals revealed in the West Virginia Hospital Association (WVHA) 2023 Workforce Report, which gathered data from 46 hospitals statewide. The report found a 19% nursing vacancy rate and a 26% turnover rate. These shortage rates significantly impact patient care and lead to higher operational costs.

    West Virginia’s Nursing Workforce Expansion Program

    The West Virginia Nursing Workforce Expansion Program uses a multi-pronged approach to the nursing shortage. The goals are to recruit and retain nurses while expanding the available pool within the state. The program uses several education initiatives to increase the capacity of current and new nursing programs at public colleges and universities.

    The program awards financial support to educational programs for licensed practical nurses and registered nurses (RNs), paying special attention to nursing programs that offer innovative and accelerated options. The financial awards aim to support faculty salaries, facilities, and other resources institutions may need to expand their programs.

    The state’s investment also helps create a statewide incentive program to recruit out-of-state nurses to West Virginia, including a relocation incentive and other state perks. Finally, the program aims to support practicing nurses in West Virginia through care models and regulations that help eliminate non-nursing tasks.

    Additionally, hospitals are encouraged to creatively address staff shortages by filling gaps in nursing assistant care and removing barriers to advanced practice nurses providing direct patient care. A faculty investment program also incentivizes MSN and DNP nurses to pursue faculty positions.

    The state plans to offer a centralized application process to two and four-year nursing programs in West Virginia. Candidates may apply to multiple schools, and schools that do not fill all student openings can search through qualified applicants and offer them admission to their programs.

    The Benefit of Additional Program Funding

    The program’s initial funding came from Senate Bill 3548, also known as the CARES Act. The program addressed infrastructure needs and acquired high-tech simulators for nursing students.

    Gov. Justice announced the program’s extension at the West Virginia University Parkersburg College Activity Center. “Hospitals had bed after bed after bed and no way to staff it,” he said. “We committed $48 million to aggressively address West Virginia’s nursing shortage.”

    The simulators, which offer nursing students opportunities to practice their skills, were on display during the announcement.

    “You can’t train somebody to run heavy construction equipment with just a pickup truck,” Gov. Justice told reporters after the presentation.

    West Virginia’s Higher Education Chancellor Sarah Armstrong Tucker was also at the announcement. She told reporters that the continuation of funding into the West Virginia Nursing Workforce Expansion Program would allow the state to continue supporting the faculty hired after the initial round of funding.

    “With the Governor’s initial investment, and now this continued funding through the Legislature, we are investing more strongly in this critical workforce than ever before,” said WV Delegate Vernon Criss from the podium. “Here at WVUP, this funding is making additional accelerated nursing education opportunities possible for the Mid-Ohio Valley, and I am so proud that we are making it happen.”

    Sydney Tennant was able to attend nursing school as a high school graduate at age 18 because of the workforce program. Having earned her associate degree and currently working at West Virginia University Medicine Camden Clark, she is pursuing a BSN degree.

    “As an 18-year-old, fresh high school graduate attempting to navigate her first steps into the real world, obtaining a college education was slightly intimidating,” Tennant said. “WVU Parkersburg provided me with the opportunity to pursue my nursing education at a great program and stay close to home.”

    Addressing the Nursing Shortage in West Virginia

    The addition of 810 new nursing students pales against the anticipated 2,200 additional new students the program aims to help graduate in the next four years. The hope is that the state can significantly impact the nursing shortage by continually feeding the pipeline with new nursing students.

    The WVHA report found that nursing was the most impacted of 11 healthcare professions analyzed by the workforce shortages. The other categories included diagnostic imaging, medical laboratory, and respiratory therapy.

    The difference between nursing and the other three categories was so great that the nursing vacancy rate exceeded the overall job vacancy rate in healthcare.

    “High vacancy and turnover rates negatively impact the continuity of care for patients, and this leads to higher operational costs due to expensive short-term staffing solutions and the recruiting and onboarding of new staff,” according to the report. “This adds to the financial challenges hospitals and other health care providers are facing.”

    According to the WVHA, the state employs the highest percentage of individuals in healthcare compared to the total workforce of any state. Other data from the report showed hospitals in the state spent $97 million to cover RN vacancies.

    To make the best use of the early successes of the West Virginia Nursing Workforce Expansion Program, researchers should continue to gather data on the program’s outcomes. If successful, other states can integrate a similar framework into innovative programs to address the nursing shortage.