Central Maine Healthcare launching tuition reimbursement program for nursing students

Nov. 1—LEWISTON — Central Maine Healthcare announced Tuesday that it will reimburse tuition for all two- and four-year degree nursing students at the Maine College of Health Professions in Lewiston who work at CMH after graduation.

The Central Maine Healthcare Student Loan Program will offer qualifying graduates up to $22,500 in tuition reimbursements and a guaranteed position within CMH. Loans will be forgiven over time and reimbursement is contingent on employment at CMH.

CMH did not release details about a reimbursement schedule, if participants will be required to stay at CMH a certain number of years in order to receive the benefit or other payment details.

CMH is the parent company to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, Bridgton Hospital, Rumford Hospital and a long-term and primary care network throughout Androscoggin and Oxford counties. The Maine College of Health Professions is also a part of CMH.

"The CMH Student Loan Program demonstrates how committed Central Maine Healthcare is to adding talented nurses to our team," CMH President and CEO Steve Littleson said in a statement to the Sun Journal.

"Maine College of Health Professions provides the best training available for nurses to launch their careers, and once the nurses receive their diploma, Central Maine Healthcare will have a nursing position waiting for them."

Maine College of Health Professions was founded in 1891 in Lewiston as the Central Maine General Hospital Training School. The school relocated to 70 Middle St. in 2001. In 2014, its name was changed from the Central Maine Medical Center College of Nursing and Health Professions to the Maine College of Health Professionals.

The college offers bachelor's and associate degrees and certificates in nursing, health care administration, medical imaging and other health sciences.

Central Maine Healthcare spokesman Jim Cyr said Tuesday that the student loan program will launch this month and current students will be eligible.

There will be up to 20 open slots initially, "but CMH anticipates this program will generate a lot of interest and that number will increase," Cyr said.

He said the goal is to get new graduates to commit to working at CMH.

There has been a shortage of nurses and other health care professionals in Maine since before the COVID-19 pandemic. The shortage became more acute during the pandemic when many nurses retired early or left the profession entirely.

"We traditionally have up to 50 new graduate nurses a year from various programs in the state. This strategy came from the idea of strengthening workforce planning," Cyr said. "By supporting students, we can count on placement of those nurses when they graduate," he said.

"This opportunity will be a deciding factor for individuals considering a nursing career," Monika Bissell, Maine College of Health Professions president, said in a statement to the Sun Journal. "For too many aspiring nurses, tuition costs are a barrier to pursuing a degree. This generous program will help remove that barrier."

Just over a year ago, CMMC had to close its special care nursery and pediatric inpatient unit for about six months because of a staffing shortage.

"This action is being taken due to resignations of key staff that exacerbated an already fragile health care workforce," hospital officials said in a statement on Oct. 12, 2021.

Around the same time, the hospital also had to temporarily halt trauma admissions due to acute nursing staff shortages.

"It is this wear that we've seen on our health care system during the pandemic, but also before the pandemic," Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said during a media briefing last fall, shortly after CMMC's announcement.

"We've had health care shortage issues in Maine for too many years," she said.