Freeport resident John Boyne and his family have worked for years to be part of the solution to the state’s problematic nursing shortage, which the Maine Department of Labor estimates will rise to 3,200 registered nurses by 2025.

Last month, Boyne and his wife Candy donated $500,000 to the Southern Maine Community College Foundation to fund an additional nursing faculty position, the latest in a string of monetary gifts the family has made since Boyne’s father started a nursing scholarship foundation decades ago.

The need is even more complex now, Boyne said.

Candy and John Boyne of Freeport at a donation ceremony last month at Southern Maine Community College. Contributed / Southern Maine Community College

“There’s so many challenges going on at once,” Boyne said. “Anything we can do to help facilitate the training of young people who want to get into this program and get into the nursing field, this is where we felt our efforts would be appreciated.”

In talks with his daughter Sarah, a nurse practitioner in Maine, he has learned how the pandemic has the exacerbated the problem, Boyne said, including the labor shortage and job burnout. In addition, in Maine, which has the oldest population in the nation, many nurses are at or near retirement age.

The largest health care provider in Maine, MaineHealth, which includes Maine Medical Center, has 790 vacancies for registered nurses, compared to March 2020, pre-pandemic, when it had 271 openings, according to spokesman John Porter.

While COVID-19 vaccination requirements for health care workers is creating a short-term problem for the workforce, Maine Health said in a press release, a more complicated, long-term labor shortage is impacting health care organizations across the state.

Northern Light Health, which operates Mercy Hospital in Portland and a number of smaller hospitals around the state, has 450 nursing vacancies, compared to 300 vacancies before the pandemic, according to spokesperson Karen Cashman.

“We have many creative solutions in place, and recognize that growing our own in the state and making nursing opportunities as accessible as possible is one key part of an overall strategy to ensure that we have a strong nursing workforce,” Cashman said in a written statement.

The Boyne family has a personal connection to the nursing shortage. When Boyne’s mother fell ill, his father, Philip Boyne, an oral surgeon and Navy officer, struggled to find a certified nursing assistant to come to their home to help care for her. Troubled by that, his father set up a foundation to fund nursing scholarships. After his father died in 2008, Boyne and his sister decided to keep the foundation going. They split the foundation’s $2 million in half. He’d use his half to donate to nursing programs in Maine and his sister focused on nursing programs in the South.

The Boyne family has been donating to SMCC and the University of Southern Maine nursing program since 2010, including a $500,000 donation to SMCC in 2016. The donation they made last month will fund a nursing faculty position that will be named the Boyne Family Endowed Nursing Faculty. About 200 students are enrolled in the SMCC nursing program.

“Their gift comes at a time when the demand for nurses has never been greater. As Maine faces a projected shortfall of thousands of nurses in the years ahead, it is imperative that we expand our training opportunities for people to become nurses. This gift allows us to do just that,” Michael Nozdrovicky, chairperson of SMCC’s nursing program, said in a prepared statement.

Boyne said the SMCC nursing program is the exact type of program his father originally set up his foundation for 15 years ago. Boyne also said the accessibility of SMCC’s tuition compared to four-year schools was also an important aspect in their decision.

“I’ve been on the SMCC Foundation Board for quite a few years. I just got to know how important the community college program is within the state of Maine,” Boyne said.

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