Now that we’re at the end of session, I would like to bring attention to some of the great things happening this session at the State House. Specifically, I would like to bring your attention to a new law sponsored by my colleague Rep. Brad Farrin, R-Norridgewock, which will help fill some of the critical medical vacancies around the state while also helping our veterans more successfully transition to civilian life.
The bill, “An Act to Expedite Healthcare Employment for Medical Veterans,” achieved broad bipartisan support in both the House of Representatives and the Senate and went into law last month without the governor’s signature. It’s the result of a lot of hard work and it will cut unnecessary red tape for health care providers and veterans returning from service.
With 120,000 veterans calling Maine home, we are in the top four states for veterans per capita, with 10 percent of our population having served in the armed forces, of which less than half (47 percent) are of retirement age.
Four hundred veterans in Maine have valuable military training in health care, and before this bill, it was not easy for them to transfer their valuable military medic training and experience to equivalent civilian jobs in the medical field, because our certification requirements previously did not honor their years of experience in the field.
That means someone who served as a combat medic for four years or more would have to begin their education from scratch once returning home, even though they had received training at least to an emergency medical technician level during their service and years of invaluable experience in the field.
Under the new law, a program will be created to facilitate the match of veterans to employers so these health care professionals can continue their education and training through apprenticeships, ultimately securing health care positions in local hospitals, assisted living facilities, and other health care facilities.
This is a win-win for our veterans and our health care community. Maine is facing an imminent nursing shortage as our nursing population, much like the rest of the state, is aging. A study last year showed that we are near the workforce cliff. According to the study, we could be short 3,200 nurses in seven years’ time.
Lisa Harvey-McPherson, the co-chairwoman of the Maine Nursing Action Coalition, said last year that, “Every region of Maine and every health care setting faces challenges as our state ages and a wave of dedicated caregivers approaches retirement.” This is especially true in Lincoln County, where 49 percent of the nurses are nearing retirement.
This new law takes an important step toward recognizing the valuable skills and experiences of our veterans with medical training as they return to civilian life while taking steps to mitigate some of the impending nursing shortage.
I am proud we were able to see this bill through to the finish line and am hopeful that veterans with a medical background who reside in our area will take full advantage of the new program.
(Sen. Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro, represents all of Lincoln County except Dresden, plus Washington and Windsor. He is the Senate chair of the Taxation Committee and also sits on the Insurance and Financial Services Committee.)