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LaHood Looks To Protect Funding For Nursing Schools

210811 Darin LaHood.jpg
Joe Deacon
U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Peoria, discusses legislation to protect hospital-based nursing school funding Wednesday at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center College of Nursing as students from the college listen.

U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood wants to prevent a funding recall that could deliver a financial blow to hospital-based nursing programs like the one at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria.

The Peoria Republican has co-sponsored a bill that would stop the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) from reclaiming close to 70% of past payments over the last 10 years resulting from an internal technical error.

“What our legislation does, is say that money should stay in place, should continue to fund the necessary funding mechanisms at the nursing schools,” LaHood said at a Wednesday news conference, flanked by OSF College of Nursing students. “For instance, that money goes to fund everything from mannequins to nursing personnel to teaching techniques that help these nursing students behind us.”

Nearly a year ago, CMS announced its intention to recoup funds from 120 hospital-based nursing programs across the country, including OSF and Methodist College. The bill introduced by LaHood and Democratic U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware would make a technical correction to the CMS program that would keep the funding in place.

“There was never an allegation that money was overspent or went to anything other than the practical realities of nursing school,” said LaHood. “This is millions and millions of dollars that would get clawed back, and again we don't think that's the right decision to make.”

OSF Colleges of Health Sciences president Sandie Soldwisch said any cutback or required repayment would result in a significant blow to the college's ability to educate future nurses, and could force accepting fewer students.

“I believe we would have to be much more judicious in what kind of content we were delivering and the kind of quality of faculty that we were delivering, but more importantly, probably the volume of students,” said Soldwisch. “This is an $11.8 million fund that we're talking about for OSF alone. That is a lot of money for a college such as ours to be able to still deliver the education the way we're delivering it. So if we have to, we would have to start cutting down perhaps on the number of enrollments in our program.”

LaHood said COVID-19 has shown just how critical a role nurses play in the health care system, and noted one of the goals of the legislation is to help nursing colleges attract students who then remain in the local community.

“Our nursing schools play a critical role in supplying our facilities with highly qualified nurses ready to provide exceptional care to our patients and our communities,” added OSF HealthCare CEO Bob Sehring. “At no time has the impact of our nurses and all of the clinical care staff involved in direct patient care been more evident than over the past 18 months in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.”

LaHood said the bill has bipartisan support and he is optimistic it will get passed or attached to additional legislation likely to win approval before the end of the year.

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.