The dome of the Maine State House is pictured among the trees

Students, administration testify in support of state health workforce bill

LD 1797, “An Act to Expand Maine’s Health Care Workforce by Expanding Educational Opportunities and Providing Tax Credits,” seeks to address the state's growing shortage of health care professionals

Several representatives from the University of New England recently testified in support of a bill in the Maine Legislature that would expand or make permanent existing programs proven to attract and retain health care workers. The bill, LD 1797, “An Act to Expand Maine’s Health Care Workforce by Expanding Educational Opportunities and Providing Tax Credits,” seeks to address the growing shortage of health care professionals in Maine.

recent report from the Maine Department of Labor found that 30% of the state’s health care workers are over the age of 55, the retirement of whom could result in the loss of 21,000 health care professionals over the next decade. Additionally, over half of the state’s doctors are over the age of 55, with rural counties being served by the oldest physicians.

These disparities predate the COVID-19 pandemic and disproportionately affect access to care in more rural parts of the state.

To address these challenges, LD 1797 provides ongoing funding to three existing programs – the Maine Health Care Provider Loan Pilot Repayment Programthe Doctors for Maine’s Future Scholarship Program, and the Nursing Education Loan Repayment Program.

The Maine Health Care Provider Loan Pilot Repayment program repays outstanding student loans of selected participants who commit to living and working in Maine for at least three years. The Doctors for Maine’s Future Scholarship Program is available to eligible students enrolled in a Maine-based medical school with a connection to the state. The Nursing Education Loan Repayment Program is a critical loan repayment program for registered nurses; LD 1797 also expands this program to include part-time nurse educators. 

To build on the success of existing programs, LD 1797 establishes new programs, including the Maine Health Care Education Training and Medical Residency Fund — which would support clinical training opportunities for third- and fourth-year medical students in rural parts of the state — and the New Nurse Retention Credit, which would provide an income tax credit of up to $500 annually for newly registered nurses who work three years in a state-licensed health care facility. To support clinical training opportunities, the proposal would also provide incentives for clinical preceptorships.

In-person testimony in support of the bill came from osteopathic medical students Austin Vaughan (D.O., ’25) and Bethany Miles (D.O., ’25), as well as College of Osteopathic Medicine (COM) Dean Jane Carreiro, D.O. UNE COM students Ravin Davis (D.O., ’25) and Tristan Brunet (D.O., ’26) submitted written testimonies, as did UNE President James D. Herbert, Ph.D., and Trustee Stephen Shannon, D.O. ’86, M.P.H.

Ed Cervone, Bethany Miles, and Austin Vaughan pose in front of the Maine State House

Director of Business Development Ed Cervone and UNE COM Class of 2025 students Bethany Miles and Austin Vaughan

“At UNE, we take great pride in being a private university with a public mission, with a particular focus on addressing critical workforce needs, especially in health care,” President Herbert said in his testimony. “Our experiences at UNE have taught us that clinical training in rural areas is particularly important in addressing Maine’s provider shortage because, following graduation, many students settle and practice in or near the areas where they trained. The package of programs and incentives offered in LD 1797, including the funding for clinical training, will go a long way toward helping Maine address its health care workforce shortages. UNE is eager to train even more health care professionals to meet the needs of Maine residents, and LD 1797 will allow us to do just that.”

President Herbert offered a similar testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Subcommittee on Primary Health and Retirement Security in Washington, D.C., in February at the request of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Vaughan, testifying in a public hearing before the state legislature’s Innovation, Development, and Economic Advancement and Business Committee, remarked that LD 1797 is an investment in Maine’s health care system and will save money over time.

“An investment now will not only directly benefit health outcomes of patients and access to care, but it has significant potential to save the state money in the long term,” Vaughan stated. “Granting medical students and residents increased access to [Maine’s] rural communities will heighten their understanding of the social determinants of health that disproportionately impact rural areas. It will increase their connections to communities that are at an increased need of longitudinal care providers. And it will allow those who already have a desire to serve those communities additional opportunities to follow that passion to the benefit of Mainers across the state. I am motivated at the prospect of the expanded opportunities to better understand patients based right here in Maine.”

LD 1797 is sponsored by Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash. “We must take bold action to support health care workers already providing critical care and do more to attract and retain individuals to work in this field in Maine,” Jackson said. “LD 1797 will help build a health care workforce that meets the needs of Maine families and communities by expanding programs that are already doing this important work.”