The shortage of nurses in Alaska is widely acknowledged, but there is less consensus on how to handle the solutions. A bill that aims to get nurses allowed to work faster by joining Alaska in a 40-state coalition for nursing licensure is bogged down. Hospitals and the state nursing board support the legislation, but nurses’ unions oppose it.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mike Prax, R-North Pole, said long wait times for nurse licenses are exacerbating the shortage in Alaska because it deters qualified applicants.
“If someone is a registered nurse from another state and they come here, it can take several months to process the license application,” Prax said. “And that’s a significant barrier to getting a job.”
It takes three to four months to obtain a nurse’s license in Alaska, even if the applicant already has one in another state, according to the state’s licensing branch, Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. Prax said that was enough time to find another job. The question first crossed his desk because military wives found it too difficult to get nursing jobs in Alaska, he said.
The Nurse License Compact allows nurses to be licensed in their home state and practice in any other compact state. Prax said it will reduce wait times and have more nurses on the floor in hospitals.
Unions say the plan hurts nurses in Alaska.
“It destroys their bargaining power and their ability to protect themselves on the job,” said Joelle Hall, president of the state union federation, Alaska Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations. She said the pact takes away the ability of Alaskan nurses to strike because they could be replaced with labor from out of state.
“It will be a tool they will use to exert downward pressure on nurses, their salaries and working conditions. And everyday nurses don’t think about it. They think, “I need more bedside nurses,” she said.
Hall called the bill an overreaction and said it didn’t solve the real problem, which is that there weren’t enough nurses.
“We can’t just trade nurses from state to state and solve the problem. It’s a supply problem. And the supply is limited by the universities in our state,” she said. “So when we as a state divest from the university, we are not meeting the critical need of our workforce.”
Jared Kosin, executive director of the Alaska Hospital and Healthcare Association, said she was right: it doesn’t solve the nursing shortage.
“But it would be a hugely significant step or tool that would be a significant benefit, not just for hospitals and other large employers, it would be for the entire healthcare industry,” he said. .
He said the state has recognized that it is understaffed and cannot process nurse license paperwork quickly due to a backlog, so joining a pact is something the state can. do now to streamline this work.
“I think this is one of the most important bills in health care policy. Because of the benefit it would bring to the state government from a licensing or labor perspective. And then, from a moment to getting a permit, it would streamline things and have a significant impact immediately,” he said.
Kosin also agreed with Hall on the importance of the Alaska schools. He said these are also priorities, but they are long-term solutions that will take years to show results.
Forty other states have joined the pact. Kosin pointed out that Washington, a state whose health facilities work closely with those in Alaska, recently joined him. Hall said Washington nurses compromised with their state — they joined the pact, but committed to favorable bedside nurse ratios.
“If they offered that, we would definitely sit down and talk,” she said. “But they won’t.”
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