PORTLAND (NEWS CENTER Maine) -- Question 4 on the November ballot would provide a $49 million bond to the University of Maine System to improve current and build new facilities in order to attract more students to workforce jobs.
At a press conference Wednesday, University of Maine System executives explained why approving Question 4 could help decrease the nursing shortage.
Representatives from the Maine Nursing Action Coalition, the American Nurse's Association Maine Chapter, OMNE Nursing Leaders of Maine, and University of Southern Maine President Glenn Cummings shared the newest projections for Maine's nursing shortage.
In 2017, MeNAC reported that Maine's nursing workforce would be short by 3,200 nurses by 2025. The shortage is now projected to be 2,700 nurses by 2025.
"The good news is we're making process," said Lisa Harvey-McPherson from MeNAC.
There's been an increase in nursing graduates, though: up to 800 graduates each year, up from 650.
"3,200 jobs, in the next few years, will go absent unless we fill this gap and solve the problem of getting nurses in our hospitals, in our nursing homes, and every place across the state that they're needed," said president Cummings.
Nurses in Maine are older than nurses in the rest of the country, according to Harvey-McPherson.
"Over half of the nurses in Maine are over the age of 50, and we became very concerned with the projection of nurses retiring from the profession, and we weren't sure if we had enough younger nurses to fill those positions," said Harvey-McPherson.
Cummings said the System is offering a free nursing education at the University of Maine Augusta, Fort Kent, and Presque Isle for first degree, pre-licensure nursing students with the greatest financial need. They can attend college with tuition and mandatory fees completely covered.
He said they are also investing in an online nursing program that gives Maine health care professionals affordable RN to BSN and graduate education.
Cummings said they are also working with high school students to get them Maine health care certificates. The University of Maine Machias will offer the programs statewide in the Fall of 2019.
"We need to expand into high needs communities," said Cummings.
UMA will offer BSN education in Augusta, Brunswick, Ellsworth, Rockland, and Rumford in the Fall of 2019, bringing education to Maine communities where nearly half of the workforce is over age 55.
UMPI and UMFK have partnered in bringing nursing education to Presque Isle. 20 students are already enrolled in the inaugural semester, and the temporary space is already at capacity.
"This bond will bring $12 million in proposed nursing and student support investment," said Cummings.
He said it would be used for nursing labs and classrooms. It would also establish a Health Science and Professional Campus in Fort Kent, renovations to the Science building in Machias, and nursing and allied health facilities in Presque Isle.
Catherine Snow, the president of the American Nurses Association Maine Chapter, said the nursing shortage is an immediate threat.
"If we don't have enough numbers of staff anywhere, the shortage affects the work and the productivity," said Snow.
Devin Riley, RN, is a graduate assistant in the USM nursing program. She recently finished the accelerated nursing program and is now working towards getting licensed as nurse practitioner.
"Physically it's hard job. Mentally it's a hard job," said Riley. "I'm not surprised [about the shortage]. Nursing is a hard profession. They're the foundation of healthcare. They do pretty much everything."
She said many young people are hesitant to get into nursing programs is because of student debt. She applauded the System's efforts to offer free nursing education to students in financial need.
"To be able to be independent and to have the financial capability to buy a house or have a family -- that's so amazing," said Riley.