Following VA tour, Tester requests more resources to address Montana’s nursing shortage

Senator working to staff up VA, rural health facilities

(BIG SANDY, Mont.)-Seeing firsthand the negative impacts of doctor and nursing shortages during his Montana tour with VA Secretary Bob McDonald, Senator Jon Tester is seeking more resources for Montana nurses.

Tester sent a letter to Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) of the Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, urging them to increase investment for the Nursing Workforce Development Programs, known as Title VIII funding. Title VIII provides grants and scholarships to students pursuing a nursing degree. According to the American Nurses Association, the initiative is the largest source of federal funding for nursing students.

“Title VIII reinforces our healthcare delivery system’s ability to provide timely access to cost-effective care in all communities,” wrote Tester, a former teacher. “This support is a direct investment in the nursing workforce, our nation’s well-being, and the sustainability of our healthcare system as a whole.”

In his letter, Tester requested $244 million for Title VIII Nursing Workforce Development Programs for Fiscal Year 2016 to help train and educate nurses.

This week, Tester showed Secretary McDonald firsthand the negative impacts of staffing shortages at VA Montana, including the temporary closing of the VA mental health unit at Ft. Harrison in Helena.

After hearing from rural Montanans, Tester underscored the need to get health professionals on the ground in communities that are having a hard time recruiting doctors and nurses. According to the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, there will be a need for hundreds of new health care workers each year through the year 2020.

“Montana has some of the brightest young people in the country, and we have top notch nursing schools,” Tester said. “If we can make a nursing education more affordable, and then connect them with jobs at the VA or in medical facilities across rural Montana, it’s a win for veterans, nurses, and patients.”

During academic year 2013-2014, Title VIII Advanced Nursing Education Grants supported 79 graduate nursing students in Montana.