Strengthening Our Healthcare Workforce

A message from Helena: 


It’s been a long two years for Rhode Island. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every facet of our lives, and frankly, we’re all tired of it. The good news is that we appear to be past the peak of this current spike, and we will hopefully soon be able to enjoy big gatherings, concerts and sports games without masks or anxiety. But even when things feel more “normal,” COVID will most likely continue to be with us. We can’t take a victory lap yet. In addition to making testing more easily accessible and getting boosted, we need to prepare our healthcare workforce for the future so that future COVID variants will be less disruptive to our daily lives.


My mother-in-law was a nurse, and I spent much of my own career working on the administrative side of healthcare. One of my biggest concerns for our state long-term is that we have failed to invest in our frontline workers. We simply do not have the strong workforce that we need in order to give Rhode Islanders the excellent care they deserve and lower costs for patients.


Over the last few months, we’ve seen a lot of alarming headlines about the strain that COVID is putting on our hospitals–strain that existed even before the pandemic. Hospitals are facing nursing staff shortages of up to 50 percent. Burnout, retirement, limited training capacity, and low wages have only exacerbated what already was a mounting challenge here in Rhode Island. It’s not an exaggeration to say that our entire healthcare system is on the verge of collapse–in fact, many of our top hospital leaders have said just that. Even before COVID, we’ve had a shortage of healthcare workers across the country and here in Rhode Island.


The good news is that by making smart, targeted investments in our people, we can get Rhode Islanders into good-paying jobs and provide better care for patients. The 13 action steps I’m proposing will strengthen our healthcare system so we can both meet the urgent challenges of today and prepare for the opportunities of tomorrow. Take a look below to see how we can make change for Rhode Island.


With gratitude,




Address the Critical Need for More Nurses Today

  • Hazard Pay: Provide funding for hazard pay for frontline hospital workers.

  • Signing Bonuses: Incentivize nurses from out-of-state to relocate to Rhode Island with state funding for signing bonuses, particularly in our most high-need areas.

  • Nursing Students: Use nursing students, paramedics, and others with appropriate training and expertise to perform clinical work in hospitals and other health care settings.

  • Licensing: Address licensing barriers for nurses by offering license reciprocity with select other states through a regional interstate compact and waiving certain licensing and credentialing requirements.

  • Expedited Licensure for Qualified International Nurses: Ease licensure for nurses with green cards or work visas and international nursing credentials that meet Rhode Island standards.


Prepare for the Opportunities of Tomorrow

  • Expand Rhode Island Promise Scholarship to Nursing Students: Offer full tuition scholarship to first-time nursing students at the University of Rhode Island or Rhode Island College for all four years of a Bachelors in Science in Nursing (BSN) or two years of a Masters in Science in Nursing (MSN) conditioned on four years of work as a nurse in the state of Rhode Island. This scholarship is available regardless of state of residence to make Rhode Island the most attractive state for future nurses. Up to $3 million dollars would be appropriated for the scholarship.

  • Medicaid Reimbursement Rates: Increase Rhode Island’s Medicaid reimbursement rates–which are significantly lower than that of our neighboring states–to increase staffing at healthcare facilities and provide better care to patients.

  • Retention Bonuses: Provide state funding for retention bonuses in order to incentivize nurses to remain in Rhode Island.

  • Student Loan Forgiveness: Expand the state’s student loan forgiveness program to graduates in health care fields who commit to living and working in Rhode Island after graduation.

  • Nursing Instructors: Encourage more nurses to become instructors by creating financial incentives, such as tax breaks; and by providing state funding for health institutions to add clinical nursing faculty statewide.

  • Student Openings: Provide state funding to entry-level and graduate nursing programs in Rhode Island specifically to increase enrollment and expand clinical placement opportunities so students can complete training more quickly.

  • Career Advancement: Expand career ladder programs and provide more funding for certified nursing assistants and LPNs to become RNs.

  • Accelerate Training: Accelerate training programs so that students can complete training in 15-months or less instead of two years.