Dr. Larry Ferguson: Alleviating the pain of Ky. healthcare worker shortage

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 26, 2021

Throughout the pandemic, our healthcare workers have been our heroes. But we’re facing a crisis even these superheroes can’t overcome and that’s the dwindling number of healthcare workers. This is happening in every role in health care, not just nursing, and there are a number of reasons for this.

The shortage is not new — retirements and career changes have affected the numbers — but the pandemic has exacerbated it and put it in the spotlight. At Ashland Community and Technical College, we offer healthcare programs from short-term certificates for entry-level jobs to associate degrees in nursing and many others. Healthcare facilities need all of these professionals. An example is in nursing, with need at all levels from state registered nurse aides to licensed practical nurses to registered nurses.

Let me be clear about associate degree nurses. They become registered nurses the same way bachelor’s degree nurses do and that is by passing the National Council of State Boards of Nursing NCLEX exam. This allows our graduates to enter the field two years before their university counterparts and at a lower cost of education.

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We and our 15 sister colleges are the answer to getting more people in the healthcare field, but we are a bit hamstrung. Here’s why.

• The cost of these programs is high. Equipment, such as simulators and other technology, come with a significant price tag.

• Instructors command high salaries in these fields, and quite frankly, we just can’t compete with hospitals, universities and traveling nurses’ salaries.

• Nursing, bridge program for LPN to RN, State Registered Nurse Aid (SRNA), Surgical Technology, Kentucky Medication Aide (KMA), Phlebotomy, ECG, Electrocardiogram Technician and several other health care programs have accreditation limits from outside organizations placed on faculty to student ratios. This reduces the number of students we can accept in these critical programs.

There are a number of ways to alleviate the pain created by this shortage of healthcare workers. Of course, additional funding from state government would be greatly appreciated. That would allow us to purchase much needed equipment, provide tutoring for these rigorous classes, hire more faculty and provide competitive salaries.

However, funding alone is not the answer. We also need more partnerships and apprenticeships in the healthcare field. We are extremely appreciative of our local hospitals that allow us to work with them for our on-site clinical training. Throughout the state, we need to grow these partnerships to include more opportunities for our students to gain hands-on experience. This not only would help our students, but it also would help take some pressure off hospitals by having more help for lower-level tasks so full-time staff can attend to patients.

Ending the shortage of healthcare workers is high on our list of making sure all Kentuckians have the care they need, helping improve Kentucky’s workforce participation rate, increasing the state’s tax base and helping our students have better lives through education.

Being a healthcare worker is a calling and those who want to answer the call can begin at Ashland Community and Technical College. For more information visit ashland.kctcs.edu.

Dr. Larry Ferguson is president and CEO of Ashland Community and Technical College.