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Gov. Walz signs order allowing healthcare workers licensed in other states to work in Minnesota

Three weeks ago, I wrote that to fight the Coronavirus, Gov. Walz should allow healthcare workers licensed in other states to work in Minnesota. On Saturday, he issued an executive order authorizing exactly that.

The Star Tribune reports:

The order means health care professionals can practice in the state based on licensure in another state or the District of Columbia, and don’t need to obtain a Minnesota license. Before caring for patients, those doctors and nurses must be engaged with a health care system or provider already working in Minnesota.

Predictably, the nurses union, the Minnesota Nurses Association, was against this measure. MPR News reported its president, Mary Turner, as saying that order is “extremely disappointing when health system after health system is furloughing and laying off Minnesota nurses who want to work.”

But this misses the point. Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nursing requires specialized training which not all nurses have. It isn’t the case that the nurses furloughed could just have been redeployed to ICU instead. As the Star Tribune reported:

At a legislative hearing earlier this month, Mary Krinkie, the vice president for government relations at the Minnesota Hospital Association, told lawmakers that hospitals wanted flexibility with licensure rules so they could bring in health care workers from other states. There are “float pools” of professionals who don’t want to go to places like New York or California, she said, but they would come to Minnesota.

“Our members have been especially concerned that they will need physicians and nurses who specialize in intensive and critical care and respiratory therapists to care for an increasing number of COVID-19 patients,” the Minnesota Hospital Association said in a statement issued Saturday. “This will help alleviate workforce concerns as the number of patients increase.”

At present, there are 932 ICU beds in use in Minnesota according to the Department of Health. The SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) Model produced by the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and Department of Health, which has been guiding state policy, forecasts a peak of 3,700 in the middle of July. If this is so, we are going to need qualified practitioners.

But we shouldn’t be in the position of adopting ad hoc measures in the midst of a crisis. Minnesotans should have access to the best healthcare practitioners who want to come here at any time. To realize that, our state should join the national Nurse Licensure Compact.

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment. 

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