INDIANAPOLIS – A bill at the Statehouse seeks to reduce Indiana’s shortage of nurses.

Health care leaders said Indiana had a nurse shortage prior the pandemic. Over the past two years, it’s only gotten worse.

“All of our hospital beds are taken up – they’re all full,” said Jean Putnam, chief nursing officer for Community Health Network. “And so that means you even need more staff than you normally would as well.”

“Right now, we have over 4,000 open positions for nurses throughout the state,” said State Rep. Ethan Manning (R-Logansport). “And we’re going to have a demand for nearly 5,000 more on top of that by the year 2031.”

Manning introduced House Bill 1003 to try to turn things around. It would allow nursing schools to hire part-time faculty and enroll more students.

For each open spot in its nursing school, Indiana University sees an average of two to four applicants, meaning hundreds of qualified applicants have to be turned away each year, according to Robin Newhouse, dean of the Indiana University School of Nursing.

“My clinical partners sometimes talk in terms of thousands,” Newhouse said. “They need thousands of nurses.”

The bill would also allow foreign-educated nurses to be able to obtain licenses in Indiana more easily.

According to Jason Gilbert, chief nurse executive for IU Health, many of those nurses are heading to other states because it’s easier for them to get licenses there.

“There’s only one pathway, and it’s a huge barrier,” Gilbert said of the current process. “It’s through an examination, and it’s only offered four times a year.”

The bill moving forward at the Statehouse is only part of the solution when it comes to addressing Indiana’s nurse shortage, Gilbert said. He acknowledged it will take years to resolve but remains positive about the future.

“I am optimistic that in partnering with our nurses across the state that we will be able to solve this issue,” Gilbert said.

House Bill 1003 passed the Indiana House last month with near-unanimous support and could get a vote in the full Senate within the next few days.