Kansas House panel approves bill to extend executive orders on health care staffing shortages

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TOPEKA — A Kansas House committee approved legislation Thursday codifying temporary suspension of regulations on health care providers included in the governor’s recent executive orders, sending the bill to the full chamber for debate.

In response to the worsening COVID-19 situation and caseload at many health care sites, Gov. Laura Kelly issued a 15-day executive order last week to authorize expanded practice by some health care professionals and temporarily halted certain requirements at adult care homes. House Bill 2477 would extend these provisions through May 15.

Linda MowBray, president of the Kansas Health Care Association and Kansas Center for Assisted Living, said the executive orders were a lifeline, but 15 days can go by in the blink of an eye. Without these provisions in place, workers facing extended hours may not have someone available to replace them, she said.

“HB 2477 is not the panacea that will solve all of our workforce needs,” MowBray told the House Judiciary Committee. “Instead, it is a much-needed safety net which will allow providers to work together with their associations, agencies, the Legislature and the governor’s office to find and create more permanent solutions to our staffing crisis.”

The panel moved expeditiously to send the bill down the line, passing it out without opposition. In the Senate Judiciary Committee, a brief discussion on the bill yielded no definitive action.

Long-term care facilities and medical providers across the state are reporting a significant number of staff members are falling ill to COVID-19 or simply leaving the field. Some hospitals and nursing homes have shut their doors amid these shortages.

The bill provisions adopted from Kelly’s executive orders would allow nursing staff with a license that lapsed within the past five years to practice medical services. Another section of the bill would allow students enrolled in medical programs and certain qualified military personnel to provide medical assistance.

“The unfortunate reality is the peak of hospitalizations may not have yet been reached,” said Tara Mays, vice president of state government relations for the Kansas Hospital Association. “The extension of these provisions will enable Kansas hospitals to access additional resources as we continue to develop contingency plans that help us address the health care needs of our communities.”

In addition, the bill would allow temporary nurse aides to provide care for residents in nursing homes, allowing fully certified staff to focus on other, potentially more pressing needs within the facilities.

Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat, said his mother lives in an assisted care facility in Kansas. The care provided to his mother never diminished during the pandemic despite the long hours and difficult circumstances endured by staff, he said.

“Sadly, I also get notifications for this facility every day that in addition to people being tired and worn-out or leaving the profession and taking higher paying jobs, it seems like every day additional employees are being diagnosed and having to quarantine, as well as certain close contacts,” Carmichael said. “It looks to me like that just massively is complicating the problem.”

Under current law, the governor’s disaster declaration could stand for 15 days. The governor requested that legislators codify the substance of her orders through March, but the bill would extend the provisions until May to be safe.

While there were no opponents to the bill, some stakeholders had concerns with certain provisions or ramifications. Mitzi McFatrich, interim director of Kansas Advocates for Better Care, said the use of temporary nurse aides in long-term care facilities should only serve as an emergency stopgap.

Temporary aides are required to complete only eight hours of online, unsupervised training, while certified aides must undergo 90 hours of classroom and clinical training.

Courtney Cyzman, general counsel for the state Board of Healing Arts, said the one concern was with a provision authorizing licensed health care professionals in good standing in another state to practice that profession in Kansas. The board licenses and regulates many health care professionals in Kansas.

“The way that the board or any regulatory body has jurisdiction over someone is with a license,” Cyzman said. “These individuals who do not have a license (in Kansas) as written in the bill, without clarifying that these people are going to be treated as a licensee pursuant to the Applicable Practice Act, it’s entirely possible that people work in this state and we have no idea who they are.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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