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Use community colleges for BSN degrees

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The oddly twinned massive impacts of the C0VID-19 pandemic and the cost of housing in California sometimes seem to affect literally every facet of living in our home state.

And one of those facets is a shortage of nurses here even as our population skews older and healthcare becomes an even more vital need.

For complicated educational, economic and union-rules reasons, there already were too few nurses in California, a problem that has persisted for decades, well before the deadly virus spread and the price of a tiny cottage in a formerly sketchy neighborhood soared into the seven figures.

But, as Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis recently said as part of a bid to support legislation that could increase opportunities for nurses: “During the COVID-19 pandemic, many nurses close to retirement decided to leave earlier than anticipated. There were also groups of nurses leaving California — taking their skills and knowledge with them to other states with lower costs of living. And then some nurses decided to leave the profession altogether because of the burnout they experienced firsthand … it is timely that we meet our demand for this critical workforce.”

What would help meet our demand is educating nurses-in-training already living in California by giving them access to the degrees they need to work in our hospitals, clinics and physicians’ offices.

The ultimate degree needed for hiring is rapidly becoming a bachelor’s degree — a BSN, or bachelor’s of science in nursing — rather than the old associate’s degree in nursing from a community college.

But arcane boundaries between the state’s community colleges, state universities and University of California system degree-granting capabilities have hampered the ability of our more affordable, more convenient community college campuses to give bachelor’s degrees.

That’s why state Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, has authored his More Pathways to Nursing legislation, known as Senate Bill  895.

It would create a pilot program for community colleges to offer bachelor’s of nursing Degrees. SB 895 will be heard by the Senate Committee on Education on April 10. We support its swift endorsement by the committee, passage by the full Legislature and approval by the governor.

Roth himself notes some of the reasons his bill is necessary: “For decades, California has suffered from a shortage of registered nurses, and this problem has been exacerbated in recent years due to the pandemic and it’s expected to worsen due to an increase in RN retirements. While the nursing shortage is a national problem, it is particularly acute here in our state — ranking 40th out of 50 states.”

Roth’s office cites a 2010 Institute of Medicine report called “Future of Nursing,,” which recommended that the proportion of RNs with a BSN degree in healthcare facilities increase to 80% by 2020. In the real world, a 2021 Health Impact report found that 18% of California hospitals said a BSN was required for employment — twice the percentage of 2017 — and that 54% reported a preference for hiring BSNs.

The pilot program enabled by this bill would help create more nurses by taking advantage of existing associate-degree nursing programs at up to 15 community colleges in the state. The difference between an ADN and a BSN is about 30 units of coursework, and nurse-teachers say that any of these schools offering the two-year degree are already well-positioned to expand their offerings to BSN degrees.

The legislation, by the way, is said to be cost-neutral — no additional outlays of taxpayer funds from Sacramento would be required in the enablement of the new degree programs.

California will be a healthier state when we have more nurses, and this common-sense legislation is a good start on the way to increasing their numbers.

Now, if we could only find a way to build them better, cheaper housing, too.

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