Nurses see regulatory snags in state

The state’s leading nursing organization says nurses are battling a batch of red tape in Georgia, with new obstacles added to an already frustrating system.

The newest hurdle comes from the state’s recently passed immigration law.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp told the Georgia Nurses Association conference in Atlanta on Thursday that nurses and other professionals renewing their state licenses next year will be required to send in documentation of their citizenship.

That rule will increase wait times for licensure, Kemp said, adding that his office will have to hire many more employees to review this documentation. He urged nurses to renew before January if possible.

Kemp also cited bureaucratic barriers to nurses who practice in other states and are seeking a Georgia license.

WXIA-TV reported this week that an Army nurse was unable to get a Georgia license as an LPN, even though she was licensed in three other states.

Beth Linderborg’s training came from the U.S. Army-AMEDD at Fort Sam Houston in Texas — one of the most respected nursing programs in the country, the report said. But the state of Georgia doesn’t recognize it, WXIA reported.

The issue of licensure reciprocity between states has concerned nurses in Georgia for years.

“It’s much more difficult in Georgia than the majority of other states,’’ said Deborah Hackman, executive director of the Nurses Association. “If a school is nationally accredited, their graduates should be licensed [in Georgia]. The extra hurdles are not necessary.’’

Outgoing GNA President Fran Beall added, “These nurses have been practicing in other states for years.’’

The nursing shortage persists in the state, though it has lessened due to the economy, GNA officials said. Kemp said 19,000 new Georgia licenses have been issued to nurses over the past three years.

The economic downturn has driven nurses to return to practice or increase their hours. Beall said nurses coming out of school now may not be getting their first choice on where to practice.

GNA said the state fails to gather important detailed data on the nursing workforce – whether they are practicing in rural or urban areas, in hospitals or other facilities or settings.

And nursing leaders also see problems with the recent state law allowing advanced practice nurses to write prescriptions. The law ‘‘is so unwieldy,’’ Beall says, it makes it difficult and expensive for nurses and health care organizations to follow.

The GNA conference also focused on a recent Institute of Medicine report that said nurses can play a vital role as health care reform, if fully implemented, extends insurance coverage for millions of Americans.

The IOM report said nurses should be able to practice to the full extent of their education and training. Nurses should achieve higher levels of education and training through an improved education system, the report said.

“It’s vitally important that every nurse in the state tunes into this,’’ Beall said.

RNs in some hospitals aren’t allowed to practice fully, she said. “Let nurses do what they’re capable of doing,’’ she urged.

Employers should make it easier for nurses to go back to school to earn four-year degrees, master’s degrees and Ph.Ds, Beall said. More nursing professors with Ph.Ds are needed to teach future nurses, she said.

Nurses with higher education levels have been shown to produce better medical outcomes for patients, Beall said.

Here’s a Mike King article in GHN earlier this year on the nursing situation in Georgia.