Bill to monitor nurse competency advances

Health professionals in more than a dozen occupations must complete a continuing education program before they can renew a license in Georgia.

But nurses don’t have such a requirement.

That situation would change under Senate Bill 368, which passed the House Health and Human Services Committee on Monday. It had already passed the Senate by a nearly unanimous vote.

The Secretary of State’s Office, which licenses health professionals in the state, said at the committee hearing that Georgia is one of only 10 states with no requirement for nurses to show ‘‘continuing competency.’’

“This is a good bill that protects patients, protects nurses and protects employers,’’ said Michael O’Sullivan, director of legislative affairs for the Secretary of State’s Office.

Under Senate Bill 368, sponsored by Sen. Buddy Carter (R-Pooler), nurses would have five ways to demonstrate competency, including completing 30 hours of approved continuing education. Another method is having an employer such as a hospital verify that a nurse has practiced at least 500 hours over two years.

Some legislators wanted this competency requirement in a statute, said Debbie Hatmaker, chief programs officer for the Georgia Nurses Association, in an interview with Georgia Health News on Tuesday.

“We certainly feel comfortable that nurses already meet requirements around continuing competency,’’ said Hatmaker, who added that GNA supports the bill.

The changes, if signed into law, would become effective in the 2015 license renewal cycle.

The bill would also require mandatory reporting of violations by a nurse –- from practicing without a license to a felony conviction –- to the Georgia Board of Nursing.

This requirement reflects concern about nurses developing addictions or becoming impaired in some other way.

Currently, an employer or a fellow nurse may report that a nurse is having such problems, but is not obligated to do so.

The change, Hatmaker said, ‘‘will protect patients and move people into treatment more quickly.’’

O’Sullivan said his office received input from GNA, the Georgia Hospital Association and individual hospitals in crafting the bill.

The Board of Nursing sought the continuing education change but did not have the authority to adopt it, he said.

Earlier this legislative session, the Nurses Association opposed a proposed overhaul of the state licensing process for professionals, including those in health care. But the bill was withdrawn by Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who had pushed the revamp.