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Maricopa County launches program to address nurse shortage

Hospitals statewide continue to struggle with staffing shortages as the pandemic enters its third year. So Maricopa County is launching a new program aimed at building up the region's nursing workforce. 

The county is using federal COVID-19 funds to pay for a pilot program to get nursing students more hands-on clinical experience. Fifty students are being placed into professional settings across the county during their last six weeks of nursing school. The hope is that training them in the field will make them ready to hire sooner after graduation.

There were 5,685 registered nurse vacancies in Maricopa County as of April, a 40% increase over the previous year, according to  a press release. County leaders say there's little relief in sight, since burnout from the pandemic and retirements in an aging workforce continue to exacerbate the shortage. 

“Having a nursing shortage during a pandemic is a true crisis, and no one entity can solve it alone,” said Maricopa County Board of Supervisors chairman Bill Gates said in the press release. “However, we’ve identified one area where we think we can make a difference, and that’s in making sure more nurses are ready to hire straight out of school.”

Katherine Davis-Young is a senior field correspondent reporting on a variety of issues, including public health and climate change.