New state funding will help expand nursing classes, but it’s a fraction of what’s needed

Hawaii has a critical need for caregivers.
Published: Nov. 10, 2022 at 4:47 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 10, 2022 at 6:11 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - At a news conference last month, Gov. David Ige released $1.75 million to combat a severe faculty shortage at nursing schools across the state.

At that same event, University of Hawaii President David Lassner told reporters, “It’s very substantial. Almost doubling what we can do each year.”

And while it’s a step in the right direction, the reality is the funding is far from being a solution.

That’s because that appropriation is a fraction of what some schools need to actually expand class sizes in communities that need nurses the most.

“We need so much more,” said Dr. Jeanette Ayers-Kawakami, director of the University of Hawaii at Hilo School of Nursing. Some 40 students are enrolled in the program. While that’s a relatively small number, Ayers-Kawakami says it’s still been a struggle to find enough instructors.

“We had retirees as well as faculty attrition during the COVID pandemic,” said Ayers-Kawakami.

With an extra $530,000 in its annual budget, UH Hilo can hire 12 new part-time lecturers. Those are positions critical to the program.

“It’s helping to stabilize,” said Ayers-Kawakami.

But when HNN asked about potential class size expansion, she said it’s not possible under the current circumstances.

The department chair for Hawaii Community College’s nursing programs says they, too, are in a tough position, teaching just 30 students.

“Right now we have five full-time faculty,” said Dr. Luzviminda Miguel

She said in order to actually increase class sizes, the school would need about twice the number of full-time faculty than it currently has.

“So what I’m fighting for right now is having the government open some general funds to help us get full-time faculty positions,” Miguel said.

Across the state, there are plenty of students interested in healthcare. It’s a career more than 1,500 qualified applicants tried to pursue at Hawaii’s nursing schools last year alone.

But due to faculty shortages over 800 of those prospective students could not be admitted.

In the meantime, Hawaii’s hospitals, clinics and long term care facilities have a critical need for caregivers.

“There are approximately 1,000 open RN positions in the state of Hawaii right now,” said Healthcare Association of Hawaii CEO Hilton Raethel.

With that number of vacancies, many facilities are heavily dependent on temporary medical staff flown in from the mainland just to get by. Unfortunately, most have no interest in staying on permanently.

“The cost of living makes it very challenging to recruit people to the state of Hawaii,” Raethel said.

“That’s why it’s so critical that we get this funding to increase the number of faculty so we can train our own students who live here. Their families are here.”

Raethel estimates it would take up to $7 million a year to substantially expand class sizes.

Legislation is currently being written in an attempt to secure those funds, and HNN has learned some of that money would go towards making instructor salaries competitive.

For comparison, a nurse just out of school can make about $25,000 a year more than the faculty teaching them.