ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Five Alaska hospitals and health care agencies have committed to contribute nearly $2 million over the next three years to the University of Alaska's School of Nursing.
The hospitals say the money is intended to address the worsening shortage of nurses in Alaska.
The university graduates about 110 nurses a year. The extra funding could boost the total to 220, nursing school director Tina DeLapp said.
The contributions also go toward seven regional sites -- from Fairbanks to Bethel to Ketchikan -- allowing students to remain at home while finishing two-year nursing degrees. In addition, the money will help increase the number of four-year nursing graduates, DeLapp said.
The plan is designed to combat a nursing shortage nationally and in the state caused by an aging work force choosing early retirement, and the struggle to recruit new nurses.
Health administrators announced their contributions at the university Board of Regents meeting Thursday, saying their collaboration would help fill vacant positions with Alaska-grown nurses.
''We need to know that Alaskans are graduating from nursing school and coming to work for us,'' said Paul Sherry, chief executive officer for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, which helps run the Alaska Native Medical Center.
''It doesn't work for us to recruit from the Lower 48 and internationally,'' Sherry said. ''We need young Alaskans.''
During the next three years, hospitals and health care agencies will contribute $1.8 million to the nursing program. The university is matching the contributions with money and other resources.
Over the next three years, Providence Health System will commit $900,000, and Fairbanks Memorial Hospital and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. will each give $300,000. Alaska Regional Hospital will give $300,000 over a two-year period. Sherry said the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium's board supports contributing money and in-kind donations but hasn't come up with a figure yet.
Alaska's population and its nurses are aging, said Karen Perdue, the university's associate vice president for health. The state Department of Labor estimates the number of Alaskans age 60 or older will triple by 2025 to nearly 165,000. In 2000, the average age for an Alaska registered nurse was 45; the U.S. average was about 43, DeLapp said.
''Nurses are retiring from hospital nursing at younger ages than in previous years because the work is so hard,'' she said. ''It's a physically demanding job.''
At the same time, younger women who used to select nursing careers now have other professional choices, DeLapp and Perdue said. DeLapp said poor pay for nurses has been a concern, but that is improving.
Surveys estimate unfilled nursing positions in the state's health care facilities at 12 percent. For Providence, the vacancy rate is 10 percent, or almost 80 positions, administrator Gene O'Hara said. The hospital fills many of these with traveling nurses who typically come from the Lower 48 to temporarily assist hospitals, he said.
Fairbanks Memorial Hospital had a registered nurse vacancy rate of 14 percent last year, but it fell to 9 percent this year, said Mike Powers, the hospital's CEO. The additional nurses came from a new partnership between University of Alaska campuses in Anchorage and Fairbanks. The program graduated 15 nurses this spring. A dozen stayed to work in the Fairbanks area, Powers said.
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