Drastic shortage solution? Nursing education at Visalia hospital

Here's the situation at Kaweah Health right now: They have about 1,000 registered nursing positions, but 220 of them are vacant.

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Saturday, November 19, 2022
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The national nursing shortage is especially sharp here in the Central Valley, but a Visalia hospital is hoping its new idea is part of the solution.

VISALIA, Calif. (KFSN) -- The national nursing shortage is especially sharp here in the Central Valley, but a Visalia hospital is hoping its new idea is part of the solution.

Here's the situation at Kaweah Health right now: They have about 1,000 registered nursing positions, but 220 of them are vacant.

Administrators say they can fill the shifts with overtime and traveling nurses, but they hope a new partnership can be a long-term solution.

The COVID pandemic has made an already stressful staffing situation at hospitals even worse.

California alone needs 41,000 registered nurses to fully staff hospitals in the state, according to Stand Up for Nurses.

"I think this nursing shortage is a patient safety issue and a public health issue, so it is a crisis now," said Dr. Abdel Yosef, a PhD. and RN who is also provost at Unitek Learning.

Dr. Yosef is hoping he has a solution.

Unitek Learning has 17 nursing school campuses in six states, including one at Sierra View Hospital in Porterville.

Unitek is now teaming up with Kaweah Health to do nursing education at the Visalia hospital's campus.

The state Board of Registered Nurses just approved their plan to start classes in March.

Students will do their classroom work online and get hands-on experience at the hospital.

They'll have classes of 25 students every six months, slowly boosting the number of RNs working in the Central Valley.

"Everybody doing a little bit of an expansion - including Kaweah with these 25 seats - can help bring more to the community," said Keri Noeske, the chief nursing officer at Kaweah Health.

Kaweah is expanding its nursing program at College of the Sequoias and investing $7 million to subsidize the Unitek nursing education program at the hospital.

Students will still have to pay for a portion of their education, but they stand to earn a starting salary of about $85,000 a year once they earn a license.

And they'll have to stay at Kaweah Health for at least three years, so the hospital's investment stays local.

"What's unique about what we're doing with Kaweah Health is that we're enrolling internal candidates who currently work and live in the community, and they're most likely going to stay with Kaweah Health," said Dr. Yosef.

The program takes three years to finish for most students.

Kaweah is only offering it to current employees for now, but they're planning to expand it to the general public eventually.