BANGOR (AP) – An alliance between schools, hospitals and health care insurers plans to address Maine’s shortage of qualified health care workers by spending $400,000 on education over the next two years.

Announced Wednesday, the Health Care Workforce Alliance is composed of the Maine Technical College System, the Maine Hospital Association and Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

It will provide scholarship money for students entering programs in nursing or X-ray technology at any of the state’s seven community college campuses.

The alliance also will enable the expansion of X-ray technology training into Aroostook County and the expansion of the nursing program to Dover-Foxcroft. Mayo Regional Hospital in Dover-Foxcroft will invest an additional $80,000 to set up a clinical laboratory for nursing students.

Gov. John Baldacci said at a news conference at Eastern Maine Community College that the shortage of nurses and other health professionals drives up health care costs in Maine.

“You can’t solve health care if you don’t have the work force,” Baldacci said.

Steven Michaud, president of the Maine Hospital Association, said the state’s health care workers are aging along with the rest of Maine’s population. Many will retire within a few years, and fewer young adults are entering those professions.

“No matter how modern the equipment and the buildings, it is people who deliver health care to patients,” Michaud said. “We need to address this problem before it becomes a full-blown crisis.”

He said enough people are interested in health care careers, but the state does not have the capacity to educate and train them.

Last year, Maine’s community colleges received almost 900 applications for 223 openings in nursing programs. Only 89 of 220 applicants were accepted into X-ray technology programs.

Joyce Hedlund, president of Eastern Maine Community College, said the primary limitation to accepting more students is the inability to hire more faculty.

The plan announced Wednesday covers only the next two years. But Mark Ishkanian, spokesman of the Maine Hospital Association, said the alliance will work to develop long-term funding sources to support the growth of health care education.

The health care industry is a vital element in Maine’s economy. According to 2001 Maine Department of Labor statistics, health care employs more people than any other industry and is projected to grow by 22 percent between 2000 and 2010.

AP-ES-04-17-03 0217EDT

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