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July 8, 2005

Health Care Worker Shortages Projected, Opportunity Returns Grant Will Attract and Train New Nurses to Help Meet Expected Demand

PEORIA – Delivering on his State-of-the-State pledge to address the important needs facing the health care industry, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich’s Opportunity Returns program today announced $565,000 to support health care training in the North Central region that will address pressing nursing shortages in the local workforce and improve the quality of health care provided to its citizens. Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) Director Jack Lavin made the announcement today at Methodist Medical Center in Peoria alongside health care and educational leaders from throughout North Central Illinois.

"When it comes to economic development, the most important investment we can possibly make is in our workforce - the people of Illinois. The Critical Skills Shortage Initiative is training hardworking men and women to take advantage of great career opportunities, while it also helps ensure that quality and reliable patient care will never be jeopardized. By bringing the people who know and understand this region the best together to craft an innovative solution to a pressing local challenge, we’re creating more good jobs while continuing to expand opportunity in our workforce. That means a more vibrant economy, as well as a higher quality of life for the people of Peoria, Bloomington and the rest of the region," Gov. Blagojevich said.

Local hospitals and clinics currently do not have the necessary talent pool of registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) to meet demand, and, if these shortages are not addressed, they will only get worse as older workers retire. The Governor’s Critical Skills Shortage Initiative (CSSI) is a grassroots effort to strengthen the local health care industry by ensuring that there is a steady pipeline of trained nurses to meet the projected demand in hospitals, clinics and nursing homes across the region.

CSSI in the North Central region has three primary objectives: 1) expand training capacity through a variety of means, including offering weekend and evening classes, providing six week refresher courses that will allow nurses to reactivate their licenses, and creating an additional ten slots for registered nurses at Illinois State University; 2) reduce the number of graduating nurses from leaving the area through recruitment of older and dislocated workers with roots in the community who are more likely to remain in their communities after graduation; and 3) retain nurses in hospitals and long-term care facilities by offering practical career advancement opportunities for registered nurses through an on-line curriculum that can be completed while working full-time.

Also notable, at least three of the ten new positions established at Illinois State University’s Mennonite College of Nursing are former Mitsubishi Motors North America plant employees who were displaced as a result of the layoff there last year.

This investment will train 115 new registered nurses and licensed practical nurses.

CSSI, which is being replicated by the state of Indiana, has been one of Gov. Blagojevich’s top Opportunity Returns priorities, and he addressed the important needs facing the health care industry in his State of the State address. The $565,000 workforce investment announced today follows a $150,000 planning grant last year where stakeholders from throughout the region, including the Local Workforce Investment Boards, area employers, economic development professionals, educators and service providers, met to identify industry sectors, and specific occupations within those sectors, where there are current or projected shortages of skilled workers.

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) is administering the North Central region’s Critical Skills Shortage Initiative (CSSI).

"Gov. Blagojevich and I believe that the nursing shortage we’re facing is not only a workforce issue but a quality of life issue. Efforts such as this one show we are committed to finding viable solutions that will help ensure quality and accessible patient care today and tomorrow," said State Senator George Shadid (D-Pekin).

"Gov. Blagojevich's Opportunity Returns strategy is about meeting the needs of business, while providing workers the means to reach their full professional potential. Through the Critical Skills Shortage Initiative, we're making important strides at achieving both goals," said State Representative Michael Smith (D-Canton).

The Critical Skills Shortage Initiative combines the knowledge and resources of countless partners throughout the North Central region, including:

Local Workforce Investment Boards: The Central Illinois Workforce Investment Board (Region 15); the Workforce Investment Board of Region 16, the Grundy Livingston Kankakee Workforce Investment Board (Region 11) and the Workforce Investment Board of Macon and DeWitt counties (Region 19).

Health care partners: Methodist Medical Center, OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, Proctor Hospital, Graham Hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital and BroMenn Hospital.

Educational partners: Illinois State University, Heartland Community College, Illinois Central College and Spoon River College.

"The focus and commitment of workforce development to the training needs of Peoria and Central Illinois is a critical element in fulfilling the future vision for our community. Gov. Blagojevich’s funding will greatly impact our ability to train individuals in positions where there are current shortages and projected shortages in the future. This retraining effort is a great benefit to our community as a whole, as well as individual businesses and health care providers across the region," said Dallis Howard, senior vice president of administration for Methodist Medical Center of Illinois.

"While there is no shortage of bright and qualified people interested in entering the nursing profession in our community, there is a real shortage of available positions in our nursing schools to accommodate those candidates. Gov. Blagojevich’s Critical Skills Shortage Initiative is helping address this challenge by expanding capacity, funding ten new slots at the Mennonite College of Nursing for students to receive training and become registered nurses. From an educational perspective, as well as a workforce perspective, that's a tremendous accomplishment," said Dr. Nancy Ridenour, Dean of the Mennonite College of Nursing at Illinois State University.

Gov. Blagojevich recently proclaimed the month of July as Health Care Month in the state of Illinois, launching a month-long effort to expand, improve and promote access to health care for Illinois families. During the month, the Governor will sign new laws designed to improve access to health care for working families and seniors, enact meaningful medical malpractice reform, provide hospitals with nearly $2 billion in new federal funds, help senior citizens afford the high cost of prescription drugs, increase critical cancer screening for women, raise awareness about various diseases and increase funding for diabetes research. Gov. Blagojevich will also sign a package of bills aimed at reducing the nursing shortage in Illinois, including making it easier for foreign-trained nurses to practice in Illinois.

"Gov. Blagojevich understands that one of the best investments we can make is in our workforce. The Critical Skills Shortage Initiative is an innovative way to not only get more people jobs in a growing profession, but it will also mean better health care for people in Peoria and throughout the North Central region," Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis said.

"The Critical Skills Shortage Initiative is an investment in our future. By using a proactive, visionary approach to workforce development, Gov. Blagojevich is not only creating new jobs in a critical field, but helping ensure that this region can keep more of its talented workers in the area so that quality health care can always be counted on," DCEO Director Jack Lavin said.

Gov. Blagojevich’s Opportunity Returns regional economic development strategy is the most aggressive, comprehensive approach to creating jobs in Illinois’ history. Since a one-size-fits-all approach to economic development just doesn’t work, the Governor has divided the state into 10 regions – each with a regional team that is empowered and expected to rapidly respond to opportunities and challenges. Opportunity Returns is about tangible, specific actions to make each region more accessible, more marketable, more entrepreneurial and more attractive to businesses. It is about upgrading the skills of the local workforce, increasing the access to capital, opening new markets, improving infrastructure, and creating and retaining jobs. Opportunity Returns is about successfully partnering with companies and communities, both large and small, to help all of Illinois reach its economic potential.


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