Premera Blue Cross Invests $1.8 Million to Help Washington Colleges Address Critical Nursing Shortage

Grant will increase access to advanced nursing education, degrees at facilities across the state

Mountlake Terrace, Wash., April 05, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Premera Blue Cross today announced a $1.8 million investment to address the critical shortage of nurses in the region. The grant will establish a new academic pathway at four colleges in Washington to increase opportunities and remove barriers for Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). More people earning a BSN degree will improve workforce capacity to train future nurses and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) reports it can also improve the quality of patient care.

Hospitals and clinics across the country are facing shortages of Registered Nurses (RNs) and a recent study predicts another one million new RNs will be needed by 2030 to replace nurses retiring during that period. Nursing schools, however, are struggling to expand capacity because of the limited number of nurse educators – a position that typically requires faculty to have an advanced nursing degree. According to a study from the AACN, colleges and universities turned away more than 80,000 qualified bachelor’s and higher-level nursing degree applicants in 2020 due to shortages of faculty, clinical sites and other resources.

“The severity of this long-standing bottleneck is coming into sharp focus as we also grapple with a growing population of people over 65 who often require more care and a higher-than-ever number of nurses leaving the profession due to burnout,” said Mary A. Baroni, PhD, RN and the pathway program coordinator. “We conducted a survey and found many LPNs want to earn a BSN so they can offer patients more advanced care or take on a new educational role, but are often met with limited options. Investments from partners like Premera Blue Cross allow us to offer these expanded opportunities that will ultimately lead to a healthier community.”

The LPN Career Advancement Survey, conducted ahead of the program’s launch, showed the highest barriers to enrollment were a lack of programs near home and the financial obligation. To address these issues, the program will be available at both rural and urban-adjacent colleges to reach a broader population of LPNs and allow students to continue working while finishing their degree. The program features a hybrid learning model, combining in-person clinical practicums with online classes, and can be completed in two years, while most BSN programs take four years to complete.

“We understand the importance of tackling the root causes of issues in healthcare and are seeing workforce shortages continue to be a significant problem, particularly in rural communities,” said Kitti Cramer, Executive Vice President at Premera Blue Cross. “Building a more robust pipeline of nurses will benefit generations to come and this program really shines in its execution and accessibility. We are grateful to our partners in the community who so skillfully built this pathway for people across the state to seek higher education and advanced training opportunities.”

Several studies cited by the AACN found that RNs who have completed their BSN degree have been linked to better patient care and overall health outcomes, due in part to their more extensive training. This can have an important impact on the communities near the rural-based programs in particular, as people living in rural communities already face long-standing health inequities because of lack of access to care. For example, rural residents are more likely to experience chronic disease, disability and premature death. The Institute of Medicine also found that once students are trained in rural areas, they are more likely to remain in rural areas.

Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, Wash. accepted their first cohort of LPN students in 2021. Three more colleges will start accepting enrollees during the 2022-2023 academic year: Columbia Basin College in Pasco, Wash.; the Wenatchee Valley College campus in Omak, Wash.; and Green River College in Auburn, Wash. The $1.8 million grant from Premera will support the launch of the program at all four schools and provide student scholarships and faculty stipends.

Since 2018, Premera has committed more than $58 million to improve access to care in rural areas. The company is focusing its investments in the following areas: physician, nurse and health aide recruitment and training; clinical integration of behavioral health; programs to increase the capacity of mental health crisis centers in rural areas; and small equipment grants to rural providers. Learn more about how Premera is investing in communities throughout Washington.

About Premera Blue Cross
Premera Blue Cross, a not-for-profit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association based in Mountlake Terrace, Wash., is a leading health plan in the Pacific Northwest, providing comprehensive health benefits and tailored services to more than 2.6 million people, from individuals to Fortune 100 companies. For more information, visit


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