Hospital staffing crisis shows why Minnesota must join the national Nurse Licensure Compact

A new report from the Minnesota Department of Health lays bare a looming problem for our state’s hospitals: a staffing shortage.

The report — Three Key Trends for Minnesota Community Hospitals in 2020 — notes that “Minnesota community hospitals saw a decline in the number of staff per 100,000 people in nearly all geographic regions of the state.” It analyses data up to 2020, the year the COVID-19 pandemic hit our state, and, incredibly, finds that:

After steady increases, the number of people employed by hospitals decreased 3.1 percent between 2019 and 2020…The number of full-time equivalent staff (FTEs) decreased from 93,629 in 2019 to 90,723 in 2020 – closer to the level of staffing in 2016.

The only region that saw an increase in hospital employment per population was South Central Minnesota which saw an increase of 2.4 percent (30.9 FTEs). The largest declines were observed for Northeast Minnesota (-5.1 percent) and the Twin Cities Metro area (-4.0 percent).

This situation has not improved as COVID-19 has receded. The Star Tribune reports:

Staffing levels have not recovered, hindering hospitals’ abilities to increase surgeries and patient care schedules. Hospital jobs dropped from 118,000 in March 2020 to 110,000 during the spring shutdown and recovered marginally to 112,000 by the end of 2021, according to monthly data from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Stopgaps to address staffing shortages have included the use of Department of Defense medical teams. The most recent 25-person team at Allina’s Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis is ending its deployment Wednesday. Minnesota National Guard units also staffed transitional care sites in nursing homes.

All of this shows why Minnesota should join the national Nurse Licensure Compact. As the Minnesota Board of Nursing (MBN) describes it:

The Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) allows a nurse (RN and LPN/VN) to have one compact license in the nurse’s primary state of residence (the home state) with authority to practice in person or via telehealth in other compact states (remote states). The nurse must follow the nurse practice act of each state. This is the mission of the Nurse Licensure Compact:

The Nurse Licensure Compact advances public protection and access to care through the mutual recognition of one state-based license that is enforced locally and recognized nationally.

Currently, 34 states are members of the compact. During the pandemic, Gov. Walz signed an order allowing healthcare workers licensed in other states to work in Minnesota, effectively joining the NLC, but the looming staff shortage shows that we need a permanent measure.