AUGUSTA – On Tuesday, Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, introduced legislation to address the growing shortage of health care professionals in Maine. LD 1797, “An Act to Expand Maine’s Health Care Workforce by Expanding Educational Opportunities and Providing Tax Credits,” was the subject of a public hearing before the Legislature’s Innovation, Development and Economic Advancement and Business Committee.
The proposal would expand or make permanent existing programs proven to attract and retain health care workers.
“The shortage of health care workers in this state means that Mainers struggle to access the health care they need and deserve. To ensure that Maine people can continue to get the care they deserve, we must take bold action to support health care workers already providing critical care and do more to attract and retain individuals to work in this field in Maine,” said President Jackson. “LD 1797 will help build a health care workforce that meets the needs of Maine families and communities by expanding programs that are already doing this important work.”
The legislation provides ongoing funding to three existing programs – the Maine Health Care Provider Loan Pilot Repayment Program, the Doctors for Maine’s Future Scholarship Program and the Nursing Education Loan Repayment Program. The Maine Health Care Provider Loan Pilot Repayment program repays outstanding student loans of selected participants who commit to living and working in Maine for at least three years. The Doctors for Maine’s Future Scholarship Program is available to eligible students enrolled in a Maine-based medical school with a connection to the state. The Nursing Education Loan Repayment Program is a critical loan repayment program for registered nurses. LD 1797 also expands this program to include part-time nurse educators.
“Despite the work being done at EMMC and other health centers and systems across the state to train the next generation of physicians, the current physician workforce shortage is only going to become worse unless some fundamental changes are made for the availability of medical school and residency opportunities to Mainers interested in pursuing medicine as a career. According to a 2018 report from the Center for Health Workforce Studies, nearly 43% of Maine’s physicians were over the age of 55. That number rises to over 50% in our most rural counties,” said James Jarvis MD, Medical Director of Clinical Education at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center. “Resolving the nursing shortage also requires state investments. This bill continues these investments into the future.”
To build on the success of existing programs, this legislation establishes three new programs – the Maine Health Care Education Training and Medical Residency Fund, an income tax credit for nurses and incentives for clinical training providers. The Maine Health Care Education Training and Medical Residency Fund would support clinical training opportunities for third-and-fourth-year medical students in rural parts of the state. The income tax credit of up to $500 annually would be available to registered nurses who work three years in a state-licensed health care facility. To support clinical training opportunities, the proposal would provide incentives for clinical preceptorships. A preceptor is an experienced practitioner who provides supervision during clinical practice.
“At UNE, we take great pride in being a private university with a public mission, with a particular focus on addressing critical workforce needs, especially in health care,” said UNE President James Herbert. “Our experiences at UNE have taught us that clinical training in rural areas is particularly important in addressing Maine’s provider shortage because following graduation, many students settle and practice in or near the areas where they trained. The package of programs and incentives offered in LD 1797, including the funding for clinical training, will go a long way toward helping Maine address its health care workforce shortages. UNE is eager to train even more health care professionals to meet the needs of Maine residents, and LD 1797 will allow us to do just that.”
Maine is experiencing a shortage of health care professionals statewide. The issue predates the COVID-19 pandemic and disproportionately affects access to care in more rural parts of the state. The lack of health care professionals is partially driven by the state’s aging demographics with more health care workers reaching the age of retirement every year. A recent report from the Maine Department of Labor found that 30 percent of the state’s health care workers are over the age of 55. The retirement of these workers over the next decade would result in the loss of 21,000 health care professionals.
LD 1797 faces additional work sessions before the Legislature’s IDEA Committee.