Medical Occupational Licensing Reform Should Have Happened Long Before COVID-19

The coronavirus is expected to peak during this month into early May. In preparation, states like New York have asked retired medical professionals to come back as hospitals are being overwhelmed. Yet, even that might not be enough, which is why states like Massachusetts have loosened occupational licensing laws, making it easier for out-of-state medical professionals to work. While this is good news, COVID-19 should serve as a lesson why regulatory reform is important for the medical industry, as America is projected to face a severe nursing shortage in the near future.

As many hospitals have already reached capacity, and where New York even welcomed a Navy ship to house patients, America needs all hands-on decks. In New York, Governor Cuomo asked retired medical professionals to come back to help with the high influx of cases. Meanwhile private companies are producing medical equipment, like ventilators and N95 masks .

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, some states are now easing regulations that recognize out-of-state medical occupational licenses during this crisis. In New York, Governor Cuomo has allowed out-of-state nurses to receive the approval to work without being registered. While this is an excellent decision by the Governor to fully utilize the workforce, it shouldn’t have taken a pandemic for New York to realize what 34 other states already knew.

Nurses can face needless regulations, such as obtaining a new license, when moving between states. In response, the enhanced Nurse License Compact (eNLC) was formed, which tears down red tape and allows nurses to freely treat patients between eNLC states.

Take for instance the following example. If a nurse moves from Arkansas to Delaware (both eNLC members), there would be no need to reapply for a license, making the transition much easier. However, if that same nurse moves from Arkansas to Massachusetts (a non-eNLC member), the application for a license would cost $275 while taking 4-6 weeks to process.

Cole Edmonson, chief clinical officer at AMN Healthcare Services Inc., comments that “under the current fragmented system, an excellent clinician may be a few miles away (or a video screen away) from a patient who could benefit from her or his services. But that patient can’t receive that help because of licensure limitations.” Not only are more nurses allowed to work under this compact, but Edmonson assures that “Compact licensure promulgates a level of quality and safety standards that protect and serve patients equally in all states.”

While New York’s decision to recognize out-of-state nurses is a good start, it currently has no plans to adopt eNLC measures. Already in Michigan, Massachusetts and California, legislation is pending that would adopt eNLC measures. Hopefully, New York will consider becoming a member, as the need for nurses will remain long after the coronavirus.

In 2018, CNN reported that, as the elderly population continues to grow, America is facing an impending nurse shortage. It is reported that the Golden State will have a deficit of 44,500 nurses by 2030, and without the necessary professionals, thousands of lives could be put at risk. 

As America faces this pandemic, the nation needs all hands-on deck, which means reducing the barriers that hinder health professionals from working. So far, states like New York have made the right decision in recognizing out-of-state medical professionals to reduce the impact of COVID-19. However, these reforms need to stay in place after this pandemic is over, as America will still face a nursing shortage. It’s unfortunate that it took a pandemic for states to realize what most of the country already knew. Now, they can do the right thing and pass eNLC legislation.

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