More leadership by ex-governor. Money to be used for UW’s nursing education and internships.

There he goes again. Tommy Thompson, former governor and now interim president of the University of Wisconsin System, is showing the state once again how leaders lead.

He had already turned the powerful University of Wisconsin loose on statewide testing for the coronavirus. He used the 26 UW campuses to get it rolling.

Then he addressed the shortage of nurses to deal with the pandemic by asking the UW campuses to send their seniors in nursing school to the front lines of the battle against the deadly virus.

Then, last week he freed up $5 million from the Blue Cross Endowment to the University of Wisconsin Madison for nursing education. That money will probably be used to pay the nursing seniors during their internships on the front lines.

The students will also earn credits and gain tremendous experience. They are sort of like the young people who became “90-day wonders” in WWII – a quick infusion of new officers into our war fighting ranks. (The COVID fight is a war, and Madison leaders should be bringing a wartime sense of urgency to the fight.)

The Blue Cross money, originally $610 million, has been around for 20 years, half at Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) and half at UW-Madison. UW-Milwaukee got zip.

UW has funded a wide variety of modest public health initiatives without a lot of visible or measurable impact. There was no overall cohering plan. Or metrics.

After many millions of disbursements, there is still almost $800 million left between the two schools. If ever there were a time to use about $40 million per year of its earnings to fight the good fight, now is the time.

A solid argument can be made that Thompson should be enabled to dig deeply into the accumulated UW earnings and even into the principal. Given the depth and devastation of this crisis to public health and the economy, what better use could be made of the funds?

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