The critical shortage of qualified nurses the Rhode Island health care industry has been bracing for was delayed by the recession - which temporarily caused people to put off their retirements - but it did not go away.
With the economy showing signs of life and retirements back to normal levels, hospital and nurses groups say the need for the state’s primary public college and university to train more nurses is now greater than ever. So medical and political leaders backing a long-planned joint University of Rhode Island-Rhode Island College advanced nursing center in Providence’s Knowledge District are approaching the issue with a renewed urgency and hope this is the year the project gets off the ground.
But figuring out how to pay for the proposed $60 million advanced nursing center, plus around $5 million for renovations to the existing nursing facilities on each campus, remains a subject of vigorous debate.
Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee this winter proposed borrowing the $65 million needed to cover the project in his fiscal 2013 budget, which is now being reviewed by the General Assembly.
While supporters of the advanced nursing center would welcome the funding, having the state foot the entire bill for the center would mean abandoning a public-private partnership scenario that gained traction last year.
“We are very pleased by the fact that the governor provided the potential for general-obligation bonds for construction and improvements at both campuses – that’s a very positive step,” said URI President David Dooley in a recent phone interview. “But we are still very interested in exploring over the next several weeks the opportunity to do this through a partnership.”
The idea of hiring a private developer to build the new nursing center for the schools, either on publicly or privately owned land, was one of four scenarios examined in a nursing center feasibility study released last spring. The other options were for the state to build the facility itself on publicly owned former Interstate 195 land and for two separate facilities to be constructed on the URI and RIC campuses.
Under each scenario, the two nursing colleges would remain independent of each other and use the new building in Providence for advanced training. With a new Providence facility, the two schools estimate being able to increase total undergraduate enrollment from 1,161 students in 2010 to 1,745 by 2019, and graduate enrollment from 131 students in 2010 to 399 in 2019.