wenty-two nurses, dental hygienists and other clinical support staff in Colorado have been selected to receive $175,000 to pay off health related student loan debt.

The program, funded by Kaiser Permanente Colorado and managed by the Colorado Community Health Network, aims to address workforce shortages at safety net clinics and help people find careers in health care.

Lorena Olivas, a medical assistant at Denver Health's Lowry Family Health Center, says erasing $9,800 of debt makes it easier to go back to school to become a registered nurse.

"I mean, it's hard to pay off student loans, as many people know,” she states. “And it feels good to be able to give back to the community and someone actually tell you, ‘Thank you for all that you do, now let me help you as you've helped others.'”

National and state loan repayment programs for doctors have been around for years, but giving professional support staff debt relief is a relatively new idea.

The three-year effort has helped 74 workers in Colorado pay off loans and is set to expire next year.

Olivas says support staff members are the backbone of community health centers. She's hopeful the program will be renewed.

Award recipients get loan repayment in exchange for a one-year service commitment to their clinics.

Amanda Delgado, a medical assistant at the Pueblo Community Health Center, says a friend told her about the relief program and encouraged her to go back to school.

"So when she told me about it and where she works, and told me about the whole safety net clinic, it did make me interested,” she relates. “I just had my mind set that I wanted to help other people."

Delgado says the $10,000 award takes a big chunk out of her $25,000 tuition tab, and says it also helped remove a lot of stress and improve work performance.

The Colorado Community Health Network is actively seeking new sources of funding to continue offering loan repayment to outstanding support staff.