Senator Vincent Hughes

Harrisburg, Pa. – September 28, 2021 — Senator Maria Collett (D-12 Montgomery/Bucks), joined by Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam, PHEAA Vice Chair Senator Wayne Fontana, and Democratic Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee Senator Vincent Hughes, today unveiled the COVID-19 Nursing Workforce Initiative (NWI) to provide greater support to Pennsylvania nurses amidst the immense challenges of the pandemic.

In appreciation and acknowledgement of the work nurses have done and continue to do in response to the COVID pandemic, this three-pronged plan uses $6.5 million in American Rescue Plan (“ARP”) dollars to incentivize individuals to enter, or remain, in the nursing profession through:

  • Student Loan Relief for Nurses – $5,000,000
  • Apprenticeships and Industry Partnerships – $1,000,000
  • Residency and Mentorship Programs – $500,000

“Even before COVID, those of us in the nursing field were noticing a decline in job satisfaction and increase in stress and burnout among our colleagues. Since COVID, these problems have multiplied,” explained Senator Collett. “And while nurses certainly appreciate the outpouring of love and support they’ve seen from the community in the form of kind words, thank you signs, and social media posts, they have earned far more than our well-intended sentiments over the past eighteen months.”

“Pennsylvania nurses have been instrumental to the commonwealth’s COVID-19 response, from bedside care and educating our communities, to supporting the commonwealth’s nation-leading vaccine distribution efforts,” said Governor Tom Wolf. “My administration is thrilled to help facilitate this initiative, which will not only give a well-deserved boost to nurses on the front lines of this pandemic, but also help rebuild a strong workforce of future healthcare professionals.”

The NWI’s $5 million Student Loan Relief Program will be created and administered by PHEAA (Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency). When the program launches, eligible nurses can apply to receive up to $7,500 in payments to reduce outstanding student loan debt, with a cap of $2,500 per year for three years. Eligible applicants will need to be licensed through the Department of State; be a Pennsylvania resident; have worked in-person at a school entity or in a qualifying nursing facility; and began employment prior to December 31, 2021.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the ongoing nurse workforce crisis which threatens patient safety and the quality of their care,” said Senator Wayne Fontana (D-42 Allegheny). “As the Vice Chair of PHEAA, it is our mission to create and administer programs that will entice students in our Commonwealth to advance their education at the lowest cost for the student. I believe this financial incentive is essential to help the commonwealth retain valuable nurses who are considering leaving the field due to the strains COVID-19 have caused.”

The NWI’s $1 million Apprenticeship and Industry Partnership program will be operated by the Department of Labor & Industry to expose Pennsylvanians to new career opportunities in the nursing field. At least one new apprenticeship and one new industry partnership created must be targeted to underrepresented populations.

“The Nursing Workforce Initiative dovetails nicely with Governor Wolf’s PA SMART program where nursing and healthcare jobs are among the high priority career paths,” said Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam. “Recruiting more people into nursing now will help ensure the workforce is ready to provide an even higher level of care for loved ones in nursing homes and other healthcare settings in the future.”

The NWI’s $500,000 Residency and Mentorship Programs will be administered by the Department of Human Services. $300,000 will go to expand the number of nurse residencies in Pennsylvania hospitals, and $200,000 will go to expand the number of nurse mentoring programs. The department will prioritize funding for new nursing residency programs in hospitals serving, or located in, low-income communities and new mentorship programs that ensure access to mentors for historically underrepresented populations, including nurses of color.

 “Our nursing workforce is the backbone of our health care system and, acknowledging that, we have to build its strength, improve its flexibility and work harder to ensure its long-term health,” said Senator Vincent Hughes (D-7 Philadelphia/Montgomery). “I’m grateful to Senator Collett for bringing her experience and energy to bear on this effort and I’m confident it will succeed.”

In conclusion, Senator Collett offered: “I hope the announcement of the COVID Nursing Workforce Initiative tells Pennsylvania’s nursing workforce loud and clear, we see you, we support you, and we thank you, and that it begins a new era in addressing workforce recruitment and retention in Pennsylvania. Make no mistake, this funding doesn’t end the discussion. It begins it.”