Bill would address health-care workforce shortage with public-private fund to help Kentuckians enter health-related professions

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

In response to Kentucky’s health-care workforce shortages, the legislature has sent Gov. Andy Beshear a bill to create a fund with private and public money to help more Kentuckians pursue health-related careers.

Rep. Ken Fleming, R-Louisville (Official photo)

“This is a growing crisis that threatens not only to burden families and providers, but may jeopardize the very availability of critical health care services across the country,” Rep. Ken Fleming, R-Louisville, said in presenting the bill to the House March 8. 

The need for health-care workers in Kentucky is well-documented. 

The Kentucky Hospital Association‘s 2022 Workforce Survey Report cited 13,423 total vacancies in Kentucky hospitals, including 5,391 for RNs and LPNs combined, or more than one in five nursing positions. Other top vacancies included respiratory therapists (17.7%), laboratory staff (14.2%), environmental services (13.7%) and social workers (13.7%).

The report says urban hospitals had larger vacancy rates than rural hospitals, at 18.3% and 13.8% respectively, but both rates are “unsustainable.”

The Eastern Kentucky Healthcare Action Plan by Shaping Our Appalachian Regionsays the region’s turnover rates in vital health-care roles are statistically at or above the national turnover rate of 19.5%. In 2021 it was 24.6%. Further, it says healthcare jobs are responsible for 17.6% of Eastern Kentucky’s economy, more than any other industry in the region, and that thousands of jobs remain unfilled.

Fleming’s House Bill 200 aims to address this shortage by creating the Kentucky Health Care Workforce Investment Fund. It would use public and private money to increase scholarship opportunities.

Fleming told the House that this “innovative and creative” approach “puts a jetpack on the health-care training pipeline.” 

The fund will be administered by the Council on Postsecondary Education, with 65% of it to be used for educational scholarships and 35% to be used to incentivize universities and training programs. 

Money from the fund can be used for a wide range of certified and licensed health-care professions, including nurses, mental-health professionals and emergency medical professionals, to name a few. 

The bill says the money can be used to “improve racial and ethnic diversity within a specific designated healthcare credential.”

Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.