Legislature’s delay could cost traveling nurses their jobs

FILE - In this June 6, 2013, file photo, a patient has her blood pressure checked by a registered nurse in Plainfield, Vt. New medical guidelines announced Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, lower the threshold for high blood pressure, adding 30 million Americans to those who have the condition. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – In the beginning of October, a New Mexico school nurse sounded the alarm. Using social media, she alerted thousands of other nurses their jobs could be at risk because of the New Mexico State Legislature’s failure to act.

“What happened? [Well] no one was advocating for what’s the best thing for nursing across the state of New Mexico,” said Erin Dodson, a school nurse in Roswell.

Living near the New Mexico-Texas border and in a rural area of New Mexico, Dodson knows how valuable “travel nurses” are to hospitals and schools across the state.

“We have to rely on those people who come back and forth or our facilities wouldn’t be able to function,” said Dodson.

Travel nurses are able to practice in states outside their home state, without getting a license in each state, because of a compact called the Nurse Licensure Compact.

Dodson posted a video in October urging nurses to call their state legislators and push them to introduce and pass legislation that updates the NCL.

The NCL expires on Jan. 19, and without it, travel nurses who do not have a license from New Mexico will not be able to come and work in the state. Also, New Mexico nurses will not be able to practice outside of the state.

“We need this. This is important. This cannot happen,” said Dodson.

In 2015, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing passed the Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact (ENLC), updating some of the requirements.

The vast majority of participating states quickly passed the legislation in their 2015-2016 legislative sessions, but New Mexico didn’t even introduce a bill to bring the state up to compliance.

“Some way, some how it just slipped under the radar,” said New Mexico State Senator Howie Morales.

Morales is sponsoring Senate Bill 1, which would bring New Mexico into compliance and allow travel nurses to practice in the state.

‘”This is the most pressing piece of legislation, aside from the budget,” said Morales.

Morales says he doesn’t know how the bill wasn’t on their radar. However, the Executive Director of the New Mexico Board of Nursing, Demetrius Chapman, says they tried to get it on their radar.

Chapman says it didn’t reach the level of conversation it needed to during the 2016 or session because the budget was such a big priority.

Morales says this year, he is confident the legislature will pass the bill quickly.

“I’m confident it will be passed in the first few days of the new legislative session,” said Morales.

The New Mexico Legislature only has a few days to pass the bill. The 2018 session begins on Jan. 16, and for New Mexico to remain in compliance, the new bill has to be passed and signed by Gov. Susana Martinez on Jan. 19.

Dodson is hopeful that Morales’ optimism is genuine.

“Women don’t stop having babies. It’s winter time, cold and flu season right now is crazy. People have pneumonia. Those things don’t just stop because you don’t have staff,” said Dodson.

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