Vermont Leaders Call for Focus on ‘Crisis' of Nursing Staffing Levels

The state needs an additional 9,000-10,000 nurses by 2027, Sen. Bernie Sanders said

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Leaders from across the political spectrum in Vermont are calling for greater attention on what they have labeled a crisis: the urgent need to attract more nurses to the profession.

“This is a big issue,” Sen. Bernie Sanders said Monday, noting that his state alone needs 9,000-10,000 more nurses in just the next five years to address current and future needs.

Sanders said the state would like to see 25,000 total nurses in its workforce by 2027.

The senator, an independent, pointed to the salaries of nurse educators as one place to start, insisting that, if they could be raised to levels competitive with hospital pay, then more educators would be willing to train the next generation.

Sanders told reporters he is frustrated that Vermont’s health care sector spent roughly $75 million last year on traveling nurses to fill staffing gaps.

“Instead of spending money to educate nurses who’ll be part of a long-term sustainable workforce, we’re spending huge sums of money on people who come into the state and leave,” said the two-time presidential candidate and current chair of the U.S. Senate Budget Committee.

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Vermont’s Republican governor and Democrats leading the Vermont Legislature all want to see state lawmakers address the problem in the coming months, through investing in workforce training, perhaps relocation support for international nurses and bonuses to retain the state’s nursing grads.

“I am hopeful that this session, we can take meaningful action on growing the overall workforce and train people in all levels of healthcare and retain them in whatever way we can, so that they are here and available to care for Vermonters,” Gov. Phil Scott said. 

“This work is vital,” added Sen. Becca Balint, D-Windham County, who has a leadership role in the Vermont Senate. “We must create clear pathways and provide financial assistance that will make a nursing career possible for thousands of Vermonters.”

Balint pledged to work closely on this issue with Rep. Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, the speaker of the Vermont House of Representatives.

Gifford Medical Center in Randolph said Monday it welcomes the politicians’ focus on the issue of nursing staff shortages.

“It definitely is a crisis,” said Jill Markowski, Gifford’s vice president of nursing, in an interview Monday. “We have more people leaving the profession than we have entering the profession, at a time you have people aging rapidly and are acutely ill.”

Markowski noted the problem pre-dates the pandemic but has worsened in the past 22 months, with extra stress from COVID-19 leading many nurses to retire.

Gifford has partnerships with area nursing schools to help its recruiting, Markowski added.

Caitlyn Welch, Gifford’s nurse manager of surgical services, said the nursing profession perfectly matches her drive to help others — adding she hopes more people will join the field.

“Not many people in life can say they found their calling or their passion,” Welch said. “I have, and I’m grateful for that.”

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