Local boards of nursing working to bolster medical personnel workforce

Posted at 1:58 PM, Apr 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-02 08:19:53-04

As medical professionals spend long hours serving COVID-19 patients, some are bound to get sick. Some such cases have occurred in Blaine County already. To help handle a loss of personnel because of the coronavirus, both Idaho and Oregon are evolving and adapting to make sure they have enough nurses to meet the need.

"As we hear the news about what possibly could happen, with hospitals being overrun, health care workers becoming ill themselves, we know there need to be more people there to take care of individuals who are sick," Russ Barron, Executive Director of the Idaho Board of Nursing said.

The Idaho State Board of Nursing, along with the Oregon State Board of Nursing, have started new programs that allow retired nurses to come back and fight the pandemic.

"Whether that's a nurse who is no longer practicing, maybe they retired, maybe they have let their license lapse for a few years to raise a family or any reason, we're inviting them to come back and get a free temporary license to go to work and do this," Barron said.

"We have instituted free licensing changes to help those existing nurses who are on the front lines, and also to help encourage retirees who may want to rejoin the efforts," said Barbara Holtry, Communications Manager for the Oregon State Board of Nursing.

It's not all just about retired nurses. The Idaho Board is waiving fees on their apprenticeship program for nursing students.

"We're also looking at the other end of the age spectrum at students that are in excellent nursing schools. We have excellent nursing schools in Idaho," Barron said. "Some of these students, especially in the apprenticeship program, they must get so many hours of 'clinicals' and right now that's really tough to do that. So we are actually allowing schools to count one hour worked for one hour of clinical--so that's also helping them."

The board is also allowing graduates of nursing programs extended licenses while they wait to take their national nursing test, or NCLEX. Barron says they're also allowing nursing students set to graduate this spring to fight the pandemic as well--with some restrictions.

"So we're saying if you were scheduled to graduate this spring, then we are going to issue a free temporary license for you to go to work," Barron said. "Now, that license has restrictions--you must have extra supervision--but there are things you can do. You can jump in and help."

To help meet the need in Oregon, Holtry says actively licensed nurses and nursing assistants that are licensed in another state or U.S. jurisdiction are now able to provide care in Oregon under a special emergency authorization.

"That will help bolster the in-person and tele-health care to Oregonians," Holtry said.

Both boards say making sure the medical personnel have the skills and capability to help fight the pandemic is a top priority.

"Still maintain integrity, still maintain safety in the process to make sure that the nurses who are going to be jumping in there and helping out have the credentials, have the training and really are competent in what they're doing," Barron said.