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August 1, 2005

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

ROCKFORD – 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 almost $240,000 to support health care training in the Rock River Valley 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 SwedishAmerican Health System in Rockford alongside health care and educational leaders from throughout the region.

"While the nursing shortage that hospitals in the Rock River Valley region and across the state are facing today presents a very real challenge, it is not an insurmountable one. The Critical Skills Shortage Initiative is successfully tackling this challenge by calling on the region’s education, health care and business leaders to come together in the spirit of innovation and develop viable solutions that will expand opportunity in our workforce and ensure that quality and reliable patient care is never jeopardized. Initiatives like this one demonstrate why employing a grassroots approach to economic development that delivers resources at the community level is so important," Gov. Blagojevich said.

Local hospitals and clinics currently do not have the necessary talent pool of registered nurses and licensed practical nurses 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 long-term care facilities across the region.

Specifically, CSSI will help address the nursing shortage through two key measures:

1) Support career progression for current health care workers by enrolling individuals working as Certified Nurse Assistants into Associate Degree Registered Nurse programs. This component will allow 28 lower level health care professionals to become Registered Nurses.

2) Link Master’s-prepared nurses, currently employed with the major hospitals in the region, with nursing programs needing qualified instructors, creating additional slots for more students to receive nursing training. By creating more slots and enrolling more students into nursing programs, 136 new Registered Nurses will be added to the field.

In total, the CSSI investment will add 164 new registered nurses to the local health care field over the next two years.

CSSI, which is being replicated by the state of Indiana, has been one of Gov. Blagojevich’s top Opportunity Returns priorities. The almost $240,000 workforce investment announced today follows a $170,000 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 Northern Stateline region’s Critical Skills Shortage Initiative (CSSI).

"Gov. Blagojevich and I believe that the foundation of economic development lies in education and workforce training. The Critical Skills Shortage Initiative is an innovative training program that will not only create more good jobs in a growing profession, but also help ensure reliable and accessible health care for people in Rockford and throughout the Northern Stateline region. Gov. Blagojevich continues to make the kinds of investments that matter most to this community," State Rep. Chuck Jefferson (D-Rockford) said.

"Gov. Blagojevich’s Critical Skills Shortage Initiative is such an innovative economic development tool because it uses our educational resources to strengthen workforce training. By bringing together health care providers and regional educational institutions to pool their expertise and resources, we are making nursing training programs more available, accessible and effective. In doing so, we’re training more nursing students to take advantage of great career opportunities and become skilled health care professionals," Tom Koelbl, Vice President, Human Resources, SwedishAmerican Health System said.

"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 training capacity to accommodate these candidates and teach them the skill set they need to deliver quality patient care. Gov. Blagojevich's Critical Skills Shortage Initiative is helping address this challenge by increasing the available training options so that we can get more nurses on the frontlines where they are needed most. This is a tremendous partnership that will yield important dividend for years to come," Len Carter, Vice President of Human Resources, Freeport Health Network said.

The Critical Skills Shortage Initiative combines the knowledge and resources of countless partners throughout the Northern Stateline region, which encompasses Boone, Ogle, Stephenson and Winnebago counties, including:

Local Workforce Investment Boards: Winnebago and Boone County Workforce Investment Board and Northwest Illinois Workforce Investment Board.

Health care partners: SwedishAmerican Health System in Rockford, OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center in Rockford, Rochelle Community Hospital, Freeport Health Network, Rockford Health System and Rockford Area Health Council.

Educational partners: Rock Valley College in Rockford, Highland Community College in Freeport, Kishwaukee College in Malta, Northern Illinois University and University of Illinois School of Medicine in Rockford.

The announcement comes at the conclusion of Health Care Month in the state of Illinois, which Gov. Blagojevich launched as a month-long effort to expand, improve and promote access to health care for Illinois families. During the month, the Governor signed new laws designed to improve access to health care for working families and seniors, 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 also signed a package of bills last week aimed at reducing the nursing shortage in Illinois, including making it easier for foreign-trained nurses to practice in Illinois.

"By bringing together the region’s stakeholders who work day-in and day-out in the local health care industry, we can craft innovative solutions that will make an enormous impact in this community. The Critical Skills Shortage Initiative is using a creative method to build a more dynamic workforce in the 21st Century and deliver on the Gov. Blagojevich’s vision to provide more widespread economic opportunity across this region," 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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