As an old guy, I was particularly alarmed to learn that Maine is facing a shortage of 3,200 registered nurses by 2025. The press release from the University of Maine reported that 30 percent of our state’s nurses are age 55 or older.

“Taking a closer look at the numbers we find that 10,984 nurses in Maine are aged 45 or over compared to just 7,764 nurses aged 44 and under,” noted the press release. “This disparity represents an employment cliff of over 3,000 nurses that must be overcome to sustain access to quality care in Maine.”

The good news is that a lot of people are working on this problem, including our education institutions, Nursing Leaders of Maine, The American Nursing Association, and the Maine Nursing Action Coalition.

This shortage is made worse by Maine’s aging population, which is projected to grow by 37 percent during this period.

UMaine reported, “The Nursing Workforce Forecast projects that Maine will need to increase the number of newly licensed nurses by approximately 20 percent each year to solve the projected nursing shortage and avoid impacts on care levels. If state-based education capacity does not increase Maine would need to recruit and retain approximately 600 new nurses to the State annually. The likely solution to the forecasted nursing shortage is a combination of out-of-state recruitment and new instate education capacity.”

The Legislature has a chance to address this problem, and should enthusiastically support Sen. Amy Volk’s Maine Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact legislation, which would make it easier to recruit health care providers already licensed as nurses in other states.

But that’s only part of the solution. The University of Southern Maine nursing program recently reported that we are also losing nursing school faculty, and now have a student to faculty ratio of 31 to 1. USM noted, “Innovations and partnerships are one of the paths Maine’s universities and colleges are pursuing to bring new capacity online.”

The Harold Alfond Foundation is providing $1.5 million to Saint Joseph’s College to help create an academic center to address shortages in Maine’s nursing workforce. The grant provides funding for expanded nursing simulation labs that will be the cornerstone of the new academic center. The college is using the grant to raise an additional $3.5 million to fully fund the program’s expansion.

And there’s more good news. The University of Maine at Fort Kent, the University of Maine at Presque Isle, and the Northern Maine Community College are launching a Northern Maine Nursing Education Partnership that will make a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree available to students at Presque Isle.

Maine’s public universities are also working with the LePage administration to host a summit of providers, elected officials, policymakers, philanthropic organizations, and higher-education leaders. The summit will assess existing constraints in nursing education in Maine and consider actions needed to build the capacity to train an adequate supply of nurses to serve the health care needs of Maine and its citizens.

Ironically, I just finished reading a wonderful book, “Maine Nursing,” about the history of nursing in our state. The book includes stories about nurses throughout history. Written by Susan Henderson, Myra Broadway, Ann Sossong, and Julie L’Heureux, the history is interesting, and some of the stories are really fascinating, starting with “Tante Blanche,” who cared for French settlers during the “black famine” in the late 1700s. Of course, she wasn’t called a nurse, but she certainly was one.

The many stories about nurses serving around the world during awful wars and serious health threats are remarkable and inspiring. Eleanor Hill, for example, served in North Africa, living in a tent with no floor, and battling silver bugs that ate her silk stockings. There were at least two air raids every night and most of her patients were shell-shocked.

Nate Nickerson worked in a hospital in Haiti where there was no drinking water, no linens, no food service, and few staff. He worked successfully to increase beds in the cholera unit, including hiring 120 Haitian nurses. Then he helped fund and organize cholera early detection stations all over the city, teaching people how to protect themselves by chlorination and disinfecting their water.

The book includes a history and more information about everything from palliative care to health care reforms and cost containment. But it’s in the introduction that you’ll learn what the book is all about: “Nurses are ordinary people who do extraordinary things: their recollections reveal this. (This book) is a collection of oral histories that document and preserve the wisdom and memories of nurses.”

That it does. Let’s hope a lot of young people find this book, which just might inspire them to become nurses.

George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected]. Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.