California Nursing Programs Get Grant Fund Boost

California recently awarded $2.7 million in grants to 19 postsecondary nursing programs through the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD).'s Education Insider recently spoke with David Byrnes, Public Information Officer at the OSHPD, about their grant program.

By Douglas Fehlen

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Like many other states, California faces a nursing shortage that threatens their quality of patient care. To help address the need for more nurses, the state is supporting education programs through the Song-Brown Health Care Workforce Training Program, an initiative of the OSHPD. Awarded to programs at colleges and universities throughout the state, grants are especially important to increasing nurse numbers in underserved areas of California. California recently awarded $2.7 million in grants to 19 nursing programs through the Song-Brown Health Care Workforce Training Program. Can you talk about this initiative from the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development?

David Byrnes: In 2005, then-Governor Schwarzenegger provided $90 million in funding for California's nursing programs. Through this initiative, the Song-Brown Program was provided $2.7 million in annual funding to distribute to qualified registered nurse education programs. Funds are distributed through an application process that consists of the release of a Request for Application, staff analysis, data analysis and funding by the California Healthcare Workforce Policy Commission (the 'Commission'). Nursing education programs that best meet the statutory priorities of the Song-Brown Healthcare Workforce Training Act receive funding.

Since 1973, the Song-Brown Program has been providing funding to family practice residencies and physician assistant programs. In 1978, family nurse practitioner program funding was added. It is the intent of the Song-Brown Program to enable such programs to provide experiences in medically underserved areas during the students' and residents' training and increase the probability of them seeking employment in areas of unmet need throughout California. Are the grants awarded to California colleges' nursing programs to be used for any specific purpose? What is intended for the money?

DB: The grants awarded to California nursing education programs are intended to promote the principles of the Song-Brown Healthcare Workforce Training Act. Those principles are to increase the numbers of family practice physicians, family nurse practitioners, physician assistants and registered nurses in areas of California that are considered and qualified as medically underserved, and to increase the recruitment and acceptance of underrepresented minorities and disadvantaged individuals in Song-Brown-funded disciplines.

Registered nurse education programs can apply for two types of funding: capitation awards and special program awards. Capitation awards provide the nursing programs with funds at a per student/per year capitated rate. Funds can be used for expansion, infrastructure and providing faculty and administrative support for the program. Special program funds give nursing programs the ability to develop curriculum or programs in the following areas: National Council Licensure Examination (the exam for the licensure of nurses in the U.S.), infrastructure to support expanded educational capacity, clinical or preceptorship development and experiences that link nurse education programs with medically underserved communities. Grant award amounts vary considerably between the 19 schools, ranging from $48,000 to $365,000. Can you explain how awards were determined?

DB: The award process for Song-Brown Healthcare Workforce Training Act funds is competitive. The programs that best meet the requirements of the Song-Brown Healthcare Workforce Training Act are given the highest priority. The Song-Brown Program allows each nursing education program that applies for capitation funding to apply for a maximum of ten students for two years, with a maximum award of $240,000. Programs are also able to apply for a maximum award of $250,000 in special program funding.

The Commission reviews all submitted applications as well as staff and data analyses. In a public meeting forum, it listens to program presentations to determine the ranking of each program. Each nursing program is ranked based on its demonstrated ability to meet the statutory priorities of the Song-Brown Healthcare Workforce Training Act. Once the Commission has ranked the programs they are placed in tiers. The first tier receives full funding and each subsequent tier receives less funding. The tier process is completely blind and determined by the Commission, using the program's ranking and funds available. Director Dr. David Carlisle recently cited the importance of the Song-Brown Program, particularly given that funding for nursing programs is drying up. Can you explain why this money is becoming scarcer?

DB: The state's continuing budget crisis has resulted in less funding for many programs, including nursing programs located in community colleges, California State Universities and the University of California. In this age of budget deficits, some may be concerned about the state giving grants to nursing programs. These funds, though, come from a very specific source. Can you describe how money for awards is generated?

DB: The Song-Brown Program is funded from the California Health Data and Planning Fund (CHDPF), a special fund that is comprised of revenues generated by fees assessed on licensed health facilities. The revenues are used for health planning, data consolidation and other health-related programs that are required to be administered by OSHPD. Can you speak about the nurse shortage in California?

DB: California's nursing education programs are continuing in their efforts to meet the needs of California's nursing shortage by maintaining program expansion activities implemented through the nursing initiative. What kind of impact do you hope grants will eventually have on the nursing shortage?

DB: It is anticipated that the funds awarded by the Song-Brown Program to nursing education programs will increase the number of nurses working in the state providing health care services to California's rural and low income communities. Some 62% of registered nurse graduates from Song-Brown funded programs practice in 'areas of unmet need.' All nursing students benefit from the expanded learning opportunities Song-Brown funds provide to each awarded nursing program. Grants for nursing programs are offered by the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development. What are some other important programs of OSHPD?

DB: The Health Professions Education Foundation provides scholarships and loan repayment to aspiring and practicing health professionals in exchange for their commitment to provide direct patient care in California medically underserved areas. Scholarships and loan repayments are offered to students and graduates of the following professions: Allied Health, Nursing, Mental Health, Dental and Medical.

The Health Careers Training Program offers mini-grants designed to strengthen the educational and social foundations of underrepresented and/or economically disadvantaged students as they pursue careers in the health professions.

California's Student/Resident Experiences and Rotations in Community Health Program (Cal-SEARCH) is a partnership between the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, California Area Health Education Center (AHEC) and the California Primary Care Association (CPCA).

The Cal-SEARCH is designed to increase the recruitment and retention of culturally competent, community-oriented health professionals in California's community clinics and health center (CCHCs) by providing health profession students/residents with clinical experiences linked to preceptors, mentors and community projects. Is there anything else you'd like to share about these grants for nursing programs or the Song-Brown Health Care Workforce Training Program?

DB: The Song-Brown Health Care Workforce Training Program is the longest running program within the OSHPD that endeavors to implement the vision of 'Equitable Healthcare Accessibility for California.'

Nursing programs aren't the only academic outlet feeling a strain in California - budget problems are producing state-wide tuition hikes.

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