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Family Visitor Programs offers tuition incentive to recruit nurses

Brooke Canady, a client of the Family Visitor Programs, and her son, James.
Sandy Hanson/Family Visitor Programs

A long-standing, nonprofit, human-service agency in Glenwood Springs is upping the ante in its effort to recruit and retain qualified nurses.

Family Visitor Programs is offering a tuition-assistance incentive for nursing students who complete a bachelor’s degree and commit to working for the organization.

Family Visitor works with young families in Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin counties, typically on a referral basis, to help with early child development and raising healthy children.



It does so by assigning nurses and non-nurse case workers to engage directly with those families, which often continues for multiple years. That work requires a bachelor’s degree in nursing, said Luci Martinez, who supervises the Nurse Family Partnership for the Family Visitor Programs.

In addition to a nursing degree, some specialized coursework in early childhood development and Spanish is also useful, she said.



“The first year I was here, we were not short on nurses,” said Martinez, who has directed the program for four years.

That changed even before the pandemic, she said, noting COVID-19 made the situation worse.

Since then, the organization has struggled to keep about 1.5 of its budgeted 4.8 full-time equivalent nursing positions filled. The Family Visitor Programs hired a nurse with an associate degree to fill one position in a limited capacity, but it would like to have a fully certified nursing staff, Martinez said.

“Unfortunately, we’re just not seeing a lot of interest in the positions we have available,” she said.

So Martinez and new Family Visitor Programs Executive Director Andrew Romanoff approached the board about coming up with some solutions.

“One of the answers we came up with is, if we can’t find enough nurses, let’s make more,” Romanoff said.

Under the tuition-incentive program, after 30 days of employment with the organization, employees can apply for tuition assistance to pursue a certificate or degree that is directly related to their work.

Certain rules apply, including maintaining a grade of B or higher and remaining employed with the Family Visitor Programs. In return, employees can receive up to $3,500 per year in tuition assistance.

“So we’re offering to pay the tuition for people who bring an associate’s degree,” Romanoff said. “It’s not just for a nursing degree, but if someone is interested in learning Spanish, or advancing their knowledge of early childhood development, we’ll help pay for that.”

Other employee policy changes have also been made as an incentive, including implementation of an employee-assistance program for anyone who needs counseling services, and a short-term disability policy.

“We’ve also been able to increase salaries across the board, so we’re no longer stuck at fast-food wages,” Romanoff said. “That way, we’re trying to build a team.”

Family Visitor currently has a staff of 18 and would like to grow to meet the growing demand for family services.

Approximately 900 babies are born annually between Aspen and Parachute. The Family Visitor Programs enrolls about 100 new clients per year.

“Not all of those families are eligible for our (Nurse-Family Partnership),” Romanoff said.

“Everybody could benefit from a visit … because babies don’t come with instructions,” he said, citing the Family Visitor Programs’ motto. “If we had the resources and had the staff to fill these jobs, we can serve many times more clients than we are now.”

Martinez said the other aspect of their marketing for new nurses is emphasizing the unique benefits of being a public health nurse versus a nurse in an acute or long-term health care facility.

“Especially home visiting, it can be so much more rewarding if we can find the right people for it,” she said. “We’re looking for people who are willing to spend an hour with these families at least every other week and to really connect with them and see the changes in the child. It’s challenging, but so rewarding.”

Research suggests that at-risk families enrolled in the Nurse Family Partnership Program are 48% less likely to be involved in child abuse or neglect cases, and their children are 56% less likely to end up in the emergency room, Romanoff said.

In 2020, Family Visitor Programs served 300 families; roughly half in the Nurse-Family program.

There’s no shortage of students going into nursing locally, based on Colorado Mountain College enrollment numbers.

CMC’s nursing degree program, which includes campuses in Glenwood Springs, Breckenridge and Steamboat Springs, can’t admit all of the prospective students who apply for the program, said Whitney Erikson, chief nursing officer and program director for CMC.

The program currently has 86 students enrolled, and typically accepts an additional 12 students per year at each of the three campuses, she said.

About 70 students are in the college’s bachelor’s degree nursing program, having already earned an associate degree, Erikson said.

With the addition of the new nursing simulation centers that are being constructed, the program is looking to expand, she said.

“Next year, the plan is to expand to 18 new students at each campus, and the following year, 24 per campus,” she said.

Erikson said that several other nursing organizations are also offering tuition incentives and signing bonuses, and CMC offers several nursing scholarship programs.

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.


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