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Baltimore County and University of Maryland Medical System to pay tuition for future nurses

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Baltimore County Government
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Nicole Beeson, chief nursing officer for The University of Maryland's St. Joseph Medical Center.

Baltimore County and The University of Maryland Medical System are willing to pay the community college tuition for 30 students to begin as certified nursing assistants then continue to become licensed practical nurses. In exchange, they will be guaranteed a job at St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, Baltimore County leaders announced on Monday.

Nicole Beeson, the chief nursing officer at St. Joe's Medical Center in Towson, said statewide there is a 25% average vacancy rate among nurses who care for patients “at the bedside.”

Beeson said the nursing shortage is two-fold.

“It’s a shortage of experience because we’re bringing in the newest graduates to the bedside, and it’s also a shortage of bedside care,” Beeson said. “We’ve had a huge amount of turnover at the bedside, higher numbers than we’ve ever seen.”

That’s because the work experience for individuals in health care has been particularly arduous for nearly three years as the coronavirus pandemic has lingered worldwide.

Resilient but beleaguered is how Dr. Tom Smyth, the president of the University of Maryland’s St. Joseph Medical Center, describes the nurses and health care workers who have remained on the job through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In the end we are humans taking care of humans in a very complex environment,” Smyth said during a news conference on Monday morning in Baltimore County. “We need to replenish our workforce, to bring reinforcements to support our beleaguered teams.”

Once students have completed the program, they will be guaranteed a job at St. Joe’s. The pilot program will be for people who live in the county’s “historically underserved communities” but it is unclear how that will be defined.

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski said the financial eligibility requirements and applications will be announced in early 2023 and training will begin in the summer.

“We believe this program can be a model for what modern, passionate workforce development looks like, that shows what is possible,” Olszewski said.

Students who are accepted into the program also will receive a $1,000 monthly stipend while enrolled at the community college. Olszewski said the extra money is to help the students deal with other obstacles to employment.

“Things like child care, transportation, housing and other issues that far too often prevent people from pursuing a career,” Olszewski said.

While it is a pilot, Olszewski said, “We’re all committed to the success of this program.”

Baltimore County’s community college president Sandra Kurtinitis said the college brings “a lot of street cred” when it comes to training nurses.

“Every year, we can graduate, prepare, put into the medical workforce probably somewhere in the range of 1,000 to 1,500 [people],” Kurtinitis said. “We are an opportunity for many who would never, ever, ever be able to become a nurse.”

“We believe health care is one of the industries that exists in our communities in the state, in the nation, that can build the middle class,” said Mohan Suntha, president and CEO of University of Maryland Medical System.

Nearly $1.2 million was carved out from Baltimore County’s slice of federal coronavirus relief American Rescue Plan Act funds in addition to $500,000 from the University of Maryland Medical System.

Democratic U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen, who represents Maryland, defended using a portion of the $160 million the county received in ARPA money to fund the nursing program, during the news conference.

“This is exactly the purpose for which these flexible funds were provided,” Van Hollen said. “A lot of nurses and other health care workers, because of the stress of the job, understandably, are thinking about leaving. So we have to make sure we provide more support systems and more reinforcements.”

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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