CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Charleston Area Medical Center finds itself in a tough spot. The operation continues to lose money while at the same time needing to fill 300 system-wide vacancies in its nursing staff. CAMC believes it’s found a way to better recruit and retain nursing personnel.

The CAMC Foundation agreed earlier this year to give $2.5 million a year for the next five years to the hospital for a program that includes tuition assistance for RN students and student loan forgiveness.

After a downturn in the economy of southern West Virginia contributed to existing nursing shortages, CAMC had to become creative to fill the vacancies, CAMC Employment and Workforce Manager Anita Ferguson told MetroNews.

“We had to figure out, what else can we offer? How can we attract individuals to come here and stay here in the state of West Virginia?”

CAMC surveyed its nurses and the answers came back clear, Ferguson said.

“That’s what exactly came back was, ‘If you would only offer tuition assistance and help us pay for our college and loan forgiveness that would be very attractive,'” Ferguson said.

The student RN tuition assistance program went into effect this fall. It targets up to 100 students who could get as much as $30,000 in tuition assistance. It comes with a commitment to work at CAMC for 3 to 5 years.

The loan forgiveness program will be rolled out next year. It will also be tied to retention, Ferguson said.

CAMC Foundation President Gail Pitchford said the foundation was glad to get involved in the initiative with a $12.5 million commitment over five years.

“There’s a history of the foundation raising money for, receiving gifts for and giving money for nursing education. Realizing the extreme need we wanted to expand that legacy of educating nurses,” Pitchford said.

Members of the foundation’s board of directors took the time to learn about the need and once they did were eager to get involved, Pitchford said.

“We’ve all been touched by the wonderful care provided by a nurse. Sometimes it can be a very thankless job but they’re very special people,” she said.

CAMC currently has approximately 1,300 nurses. It has 7,000 employees overall.

The initiative also includes a component to help the dependents of CAMC employees to help pay for clinical career education and career growth opportunities for existing CAMC employees in nursing and other areas of employment.

Meanwhile, CAMC is on target to cut 300 non-nursing positions by the end of the year. The hospital recorded a $4.2 million loss in September mainly because it continues to treat more patients that are covered by discounted payers Medicaid and Medicare and fewer patients covered by private insurance carriers.

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