LEWISTON – The Center for Continuing Education at the University of Southern Maine was recently awarded a grant from the Maine Health Access Foundation. The purpose is to support the Corporate Partners/L-A Health Care Action Team’s planning process to create a comprehensive strategy to address the shortage of health care professionals – particularly registered nurses – in the Lewiston-Auburn area by creating career development programs for local health care workers and aspiring high school students.

Recent news and reports have highlighted the nursing shortage in the United States, and more nurses are needed throughout Maine and in Lewiston/Auburn. Androscoggin County is designated as a primary medical care and mental health shortage area and as a medically underserved area by the Bureau of Primary Health Care. As the baby boomers age, the shortage is expected to grow.

Maine’s nursing education programs cannot accommodate aspiring prospective nursing students because of capacity issues, including a shortage of qualified nursing faculty.

A majority of the state’s nursing education programs have reported difficulties hiring part-time faculty. Bonnie Farmer, coordinator of USM’s nursing program on the Lewiston-Auburn campus, notes that only one person had responded to recent advertisements in the newspapers for adjunct faculty to teach in the nursing program.

Sharon Kuhrt of CMMC’s School of Nursing reports that “hundreds of applications are received for each class, but only dozens can be accepted.”

With this grant, the team hopes to accomplish three goals:

Support and encourage existing employees of health care organizations in achieving higher skill levels through increased access to college-level education. Current employees will start on a path to earning a health-care related degree by taking college prep and entry-level college courses onsite at their employment and finish their degree at either CMCC or USM/L-A.

Develop options and programs to increase the number of master’s level nurses who can teach college courses in order to reduce the nursing faculty shortage and eliminate the waiting lists found at many nurse education programs in southern Maine.

Reach out to area high schools and establish a partnership that will create awareness among high school students about health care careers and the post-secondary educational opportunities available to them in Androscoggin County. Particular populations the team hopes to reach are those who have interest and potential to succeed in college, but never actually attend, estimated to be about 30 percent of all high school freshmen.

“If we can engage these students early, keep their aspirations high and get them connected to potential health care career opportunities and college experiences, we have a good chance of getting them to the critical plateau of a two-year college degree, the minimum requirement for most of the high demand occupations in the health care industry,” said Steve McFarland, a member of the team.

The Health Care Action Team is a subgroup of Corporate Partners/L-A, a collaborative organization comprised of local business leaders, the Chamber, Central Maine Community College and USM/L-A.

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