HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – Two local colleges are teaming up to try and get more nurses onto hospital floors faster as the need for registered nurses reaches critical levels.

Holyoke Community College and Westfield State University signed off on a joint nursing program allowing students to pursue an Associates and Bachelors degree simultaneously with the combined resources of both schools.

“High demand sectors, particularly healthcare, are really important to us to not only address pandemic recovery but to also asses a high need occupational sector for our region,” said HCC President Christina Royal.

The program increases access for aspiring Registered Nurses who couldn’t manage, fund or qualify for a traditional four-year program before at a time when education opportunities in the field are actually shrinking.

According to a report from the American Academy of Colleges of Nursing, 92,000 qualified applicants to nursing programs were denied in 2021 because of insufficient resources like available faculty and clinical labs. This program combines the access of HCC with the resources of Westfield State.

Nursing departments in the now post-Covid era are in dire need of reinforcements. Before the pandemic, nearly 6.5 percent of nursing positions in acute care settings were vacant. Now, vacancies are more than double that, at 13.4 percent, lagging behind staffing levels from 2018.

“In hospital every single day, what we are seeing is that nurses are overworked,” said Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky.

That same survey found that some 800,000 nurses plan to retire in the next four years with the average age of registered nurses standing at 52-years-old in 2020.

This joint program comes at the perfect time for an industry in desperate need of reinforcements.