Minnesota’s shortage of trained ICU nurses shows why we should join the national Nurse Licensure Compact

At the weekend, the Pioneer Press ran a story titled ‘As COVID-19 hospitalizations rise, staffing shortages — not a lack of beds or ventilators — are biggest concern‘. It read:

Minnesota health officials are confident the state has enough hospital beds to handle an expected surge of patients with serious COVID-19 infections, but there is growing alarm there may not be enough medical workers to provide care.

“All the beds in the world are worthless without skilled, experienced health care workers to staff them and to provide care,” said Kris Ehresmann, director of infectious disease for the Minnesota Department of Health.

This isn’t a new problem. Back in May, the Star Tribune reported:

Several hospitals are already activating those extra beds, though in some cases they are finding it difficult to find the critical care nurses to staff existing ICU beds — much less new ones, said Dr. Rahul Koranne, president of the Minnesota Hospital Association. Staffing difficulties, rather than a lack of physical bed space, caused some of the hospitals to divert patients.

Nurses in the Twin Cities reported being called in for overtime shifts for the Memorial Day weekend…

As I wrote then, this illustrates why Gov. Walz was correct to sign an order allowing healthcare workers licensed in other states to work in Minnesota, something we had previously called on him to do. If this is good policy in time of a crisis, it is something we ought to look at permanently. That means joining the national Nurse Licensure Compact. As the Minnesota Board of Nursing 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. The mission of the Nurse Licensure Compact is: 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.

Membership would improve our situation regarding qualified ICU nurses. As the Star Tribune reported when Gov. Walz signed his order:

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.”

Those concerns seem to be being borne out.

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