The Pikes Peak region needs at least 1,345 more nurses, as nursing tops the area's labor-shortage chart.
House Bill 1086 would quickly address the problem.
Though seldom explained by journalists and politicians, the crisis of soaring costs and inadequate access to health care relates to a growing shortage of medical providers and increasing demand on the system as baby boomers age.
The medical industry expects Colorado's demand for nurses to grow by 33 percent between 2015 and 2024.
HB 1086 authorizes Pikes Peak Community College and other community colleges throughout Colorado to offer four-year nursing degrees at a fraction of the cost of traditional four-year institutions.
Pikes Peak and other community colleges offer two-year associate degrees of nursing, with which graduates become registered nurses upon passing a test. Registered nurses with two-year degrees typically need to earn four-year degrees to advance in rank and maximize earnings. Health care providers often hire RNs with associate degrees, with an agreement the new hires will obtain bachelor degrees while they work.
HB 1086 is the first state legislation of significance designed to increase the supply of health care providers, after years of failed federal and state efforts to resolve the health care crisis with legislative tweaks to insurance distribution and regulation. Coverage is not care. Doctors and nurses are care, and HB 1086 would produce more nurses.
The bill has bipartisan support, and recently passed 12-1 out of the House Health Committee before passing in the full House Friday. State senators will likewise pass this bill with alacrity, if they genuinely care about improving access to health care.
A credit hour in the Pikes Peak nursing program costs $144. Regis University in Denver charges $530 for each credit hour in its nursing program. The University of Colorado charges $400 for a credit hour. Colorado Mesa University, Colorado State University, the University of Northern Colorado and other four-year institutions have nursing-degree programs that all offer prices higher than those of community colleges.
Most nursing programs within Colorado have waiting lists for enrollment. This won't likely change with passage of the bill. Meanwhile, local hospitals recruit nurses from Florida and about seven other states with community colleges that offer four-year nursing degrees.
Executives of both major hospital systems in Colorado Springs support the bill in writing, because they need more nurses with four-year degrees.
The nursing profession offers extraordinary opportunity for young adults. RNs with two-year associate degrees typically begin careers in Colorado Springs with salaries of $50,000 and up, and earning potential increases among those with four-year degrees.
Not everyone can afford the tuition charged by prestigious four-year institutions. With lower tuition, community college expand the option of nursing careers to people from all rungs of the socioeconomic ladder.
Whether educated at Harvard or a community college, quality standards among Colorado nurses are ensured by a licensing exam that treats all prospects the same. At Pikes Peak, 99 percent of two-year graduates pass the test.
House Bill 1086 is a win-win-win for everyone. It helps young people seeking stable careers. It helps hospitals, clinics, hospices and nursing homes resolve a shortage of providers. It helps patients, who receive better care when nurses are not spread too thin.
Pass and sign HB 1086 into law. It is one good legislative step toward substantive improvement to Colorado health care.