CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee today announced a $750,000 matching grant in support of the Graduate Nursing Loan Forgiveness Program, which will direct $1.4 million to pay for scholarships for RNs to earn graduate teaching degrees in nursing. The donation is made possible through BlueCross’ Tennessee Health Foundation.

Governor Bredesen initiated the program, which he signed into law in 2006, in response to a shortage of nurse faculty in Tennessee that is forcing schools to turn away prospective nursing students.

Under the scholarship program, nurses earning a graduate degree are expected to teach for four years in a Tennessee undergraduate nursing studies program. The program will return up to 100 nurses to school beginning fall of 2007 and send up to 100 RNs back to school for graduate studies each subsequent year. For every year a graduate of the program teaches, the state will forgive 25 percent of the loan.

“As a nurse and health care CEO, I understand the crucial role registered nurses play in providing peace of mind to Tennesseans,” BlueCross CEO Vicky Gregg said. “Nurses are the backbone of our health care system across a wide spectrum of industries, whether it’s at a hospital, doctor’s office, pharmacy benefits management company or an insurance company, like BlueCross. All of these health care delivery systems depend on nurses to serve their customers.”

According to The Tennessee Center for Nursing, approximately 383 nurse faculty positions will be needed by 2010 to supplement current teaching shortages and expected faculty retirements.

This projected lack of nursing faculty is a direct contributor to the current shortage of nurses on the frontline of health care in the state. The Tennessee Hospital Association reports that there were 1,942 vacant RN positions among the state’s hospitals in the most recent year—indicating a 7.5 percent more demand than supply for hospital nurses.

“Now more than ever, there is a need for the health care community to step up and help address the nursing shortage in our state,” said Beverly Cosley, manager of BlueCross’ Tennessee Health Foundation. “Contributions to the scholarship program are an important investment in the health status of all citizens. At BlueCross we hope our support not only raises money but also awareness of the need for quality nurses.”

About BlueCross

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee's mission is to provide its customers and communities with peace of mind through affordable solutions for health and healing, life and living. Founded in 1945, the Chattanooga-based company is focused on reinventing the health plan for its 3 million members in Tennessee and across the country. Through its integrated health management approach, BlueCross provides patient-centric products and services that drive health improvement and positively impact health care quality and value. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Inc. is an independent licensee of the BlueCross BlueShield Association. For more information, visit the company's website at www.bcbst.com.