Group Gathers In Hartford In Support Of Endangered Nurse-Training Program
GRACE E. MERRITT
December 09, 2009
HARTFORD — - Chantal Kouoh's voice cracked Tuesday as she said how disappointed she was to be shut out of a state-subsidized nurse-training program because of budget cuts.
"I feel like a part of my life is gone," she said to an audience of other students, state legislators, journalists and nurse advocates at a press conference at the Legislative Office Building organized by District 1199, New England Health Care Employees Union.
"As a single mother with a very low income, I really can't afford to go to a private program."
Kouoh explained that she planned to start training to be a licensed practical nurse in January, but was shocked to hear that Gov. M. Jodi Rell had decided to suspend the program.
Kouoh, a nursing assistant at the Chelsea Place Care Center in Hartford, saw the program as a way to further her career and improve life for her and her 6-year-old son.
Rell recently decided to suspend the heavily subsidized program to save $1.7 million to help close a $600 million deficit in the state budget. It's among many budget cuts the governor has proposed to trim the deficit. Rell has called the legislature to a special session next week to consider other cuts.
State officials have said the nurse-training program, offered at 10 of the state's technical high schools, is for adults and therefore isn't part of the schools' core mission. They also point out that the same program is offered at three private institutions in the state.
But nurse advocates, students, legislators and nursing home leaders said suspending the program is short-sighted, not only because a nursing shortage looms in the future, but because jobs are so scarce.
"Jobs, jobs, jobs in the economy are critically important," state Sen. Edith Prague said.
Prague also pointed out that cutting the program won't save as much as expected because the 44 instructors who teach the program are all covered by a contract that is in force until June 30, 2011.
Many students say they can't afford to pay the $28,000 to $36,000 price for private school instruction, which is six times more expensive than the state program's $4,850 tuition.
Prague suggested that Democrats might consider dipping into the state's campaign financing fund to cover the cost of the program.
Others suggested that the state could double the cost of tuition to help cover costs and keep the program going. Some of the students in the audience yelled out their approval.
Adam Liegeot, a spokesman for Rell, said that the governor would be happy to review the funding options.
"The bottom line is that this program isn't paying for itself," he said. "Connecticut's taxpayers have been subsidizing it in a big way at $17,150 per student."
The licensed practical nurse program produces about 350 nurses every 16 months, which is about 60 percent of the state's trained LPNs. Many nursing students use the LPN program as a step toward becoming registered nurses.
Rell's office pointed out that labor market reports show that there is no nursing shortage currently in the state. But nursing advocates warn of an imminent shortage in the future as baby boomers age.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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