Nurse numbers on the Kenai Peninsula could get a boost as funds were raised to support nursing education, and a new class of nurses may be set to start as early as January.
About $15,000 was raised to start a fund to benefit prospective nursing students on the peninsula. An assortment of peninsula health care organizations that depend on nurses hosted a fund-raising event Nov. 15 at the Kenai Senior Citizens Center. The goal was to create either grants or loan programs to assist with schooling.
"There is a critical nursing shortage on the peninsula," said Linda Flowers, director of the Forget-Me-Not Care Center. "We are trying to raise (these) funds so that it becomes a self-supporting fund."
State labor economist Neal Fried said statewide nursing figures were in line with the national low. He said the problem is one that could take some time to resolve, however.
"In the last 10 years, there's been a shortage of nurses all across the country," he said. "In that sense, we're probably not unique. There doesn't seem to be an ebb and flow for the demand for nurses. A lot of people think it's going to be that way for a long time into the future."
Fried said health care is the fastest growing larger sector industry in both state and national economy.
"So the demand for nursing has just grown phenomenally," he said. "So that just puts a lot of pressure on demand for nurses."
Dennis Murray, administrator of Heritage Place in Soldotna, said the fund-raiser was an effort to begin addressing that need close to home. He said the hope is that the money raised can become a self-supporting fund.
"Certainly the need for support of nursing education is not going to go away because we had one fund-raiser," Murray said. "There's no short-term fix."
He said a committee of stakeholder organizations -- including both his and Flowers' organizations, Central Peninsula Counseling Services, Central Peninsula Gener-al Hospital, Healthy Communities-Healthy People, First Choice Home Health Care, Kenai Peninsula Coll-ege, Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Workforce Devel-opment Center, Soroptimist Inter-national of the Twin Cities, and Weber State University of Ogden, Utah -- will meet to determine exactly how the money will be distributed.
In the meantime, there is a class of 13 students seeking registered nurse credentials and a corresponding associates degree from a cooperation between KPC and Weber State. The students expect to complete their requirements by May.
Murray said a new class could "tentatively" begin as soon as January in Homer through a cooperation with the South Peninsula Hospital, KPC's Homer campus and Weber State.
"It's a partnership and collaboration not only of our community, but of several communities," he said.
KPC officials said the class needs to have a sufficient number of students to start but could not say absolutely how many that would be. Murray said information on whether the new class will be an actuality will be available early next month.
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