In a rare show of vigorous bipartisanship, the Oregon House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill on Friday to support nurses and address the state’s ongoing nursing staff shortage.
If approved by the Senate, House Bill 4003 would direct the state to issue nursing intern licenses to students meeting certain qualifications and allow them to practice under the supervision of a registered nurse.
It would allow nursing interns to receive pay and school credit if their institution allows, and it would expand programs supporting the mental health and overall wellness of nurses in Oregon’s health care industry. It also extends a provision put in place by the state during the pandemic allowing emergency licensure of nurses for an additional 90 days following the end of Oregon’s public health emergency declaration on April 1.
The proposal comes from Rep. Rachel Prusak, D-West Linn, who is a nurse. She worked with groups representing nurses and healthcare workers to craft the bill in response to staffing shortages and challenges nurses are facing that were identified before the pandemic and have worsened during the COVID-19 crisis.
“I have seen firsthand the stress this pandemic has placed on our already overburdened healthcare system, and I knew the legislature had to take action to avoid further depleting our health care workers,” Prusak said.
According to a 2018 analysis by the Oregon Employment Department, Oregon was projected to need an additional 2,600 nurses each year over the next decade to replace those leaving the industry. Data from 2019 shows the state’s nursing programs only produced around 1,500 new nurses ready to enter the workforce that year.
The pandemic has placed additional pressure on schools to produce more nurses and hospitals to find ways to retain them.
The bill has the support of several statewide organizations representing nurses and health care workers, including the Oregon Nurses Association, Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, Oregon Center for Nursing and Oregon Primary Care Association.
Diane Solomon, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner representing the Oregon Nurses Association, told lawmakers earlier this month that Oregon is “hemorrhaging” nurses.
“HB 4003 will help meet the needs of recruitment, as well as retention of a veteran, experienced workforce with essential skills,” Solomon said. “Funding expansion of the successful Oregon Wellness Program to include nurses will absolutely offer intensely needed mental health care. In this way, nurses will be able to keep working without sacrificing their own health and mental health.”
Prusak said she was proud to have shepherded the bill through the House with such widespread support, and she’s confident it will have the same warm reception in the Senate.
Rep. Travis Nelson, D-North Portland — a fellow nurse and one of the legislature’s newest members — said the past two years have been devastating for nurses on the front lines fighting COVID-19.
He said this bill will make both short- and long-term progress in providing solutions for the nursing staff crisis in Oregon.
It now heads to the Senate for consideration. Lawmakers have until March 7 to pass bills.