MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — The nation’s healthcare industry is dealing with a nursing shortage.

Founder and President of Gale Healthcare Tony Braswell has experience staffing nurses for 31 years and believes the shortage is only going to grow worse.

“We are over one-million nurses short right now. More people are quitting than we can even create,” said Braswell. “We need more healthcare workers. This problem is not going to go away, and you can ignore it, but one day it is going to be you laying there and you are going to wish you had done something,” he continued.

Premier Nursing Academy has two campuses in the Tampa Bay area – one in Bradenton and another in Pinellas Park. The training academy aims to help reduce the nursing shortage. Right now, they offer free 6-week training programs to individuals who want to start a career in nursing and become a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant).

Thanks to a $10,000 donation from the Gale Healthcare Foundation, Premier Nursing Academy will be able to expand its reach to underserved communities. The president and founder Chris Palevich explains building new campuses has been an obstacle due to costs.

“We looked at, how can we be able to deliver our education across the entire state without having to build a campus in each one of the rural areas throughout Florida. So looking at areas like Ocala or Arcadia where there is a need for CNAs. We can then deliver through an online platform, our education through our schooling, to those areas to be able to provide new CNAs in markets that we were once not able to go to because of the cost of new campuses going into those areas,” explained Palevich.

Right now, around 1,600 people graduate from the two local campuses each year. Palevich says the work they’re doing is already making a big impact and giving access to those who might not be able to afford to go to school, but going virtual will greatly expand their reach.

Student Chelsea Boatwright dreamed of being a nurse, but she says financial issues held her back. Ten years later, she’s working through Premier’s free program, getting back to her life goal to become a nurse. She says not carrying a financial burden to pursue her dreams is significant.

“It is a huge weight. I mean, every day, struggling from taking care of my kids, I was a single mother at one point, wondering how am I going to feed my kids, but also work at the same time. With this program, it allows me to be able to go back to school and not have to shove out money or worry about, hey it’s okay I take this break from work right now, so I can continue my education because in the long run, it is going to pay off,” said Boatwright.

For more details on the program and how to get enrolled, visit Premier Nursing Academy’s website here.