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Nurse compact to be acted on quickly, legislators say

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Legislative leaders say they will race to meet a deadline – just three days into next year’s session – to adopt a multistate compact that allows nurses licensed elsewhere to work in New Mexico.

Supporters say approval is critical because nurses working under the multistate compact fill as much as 80 percent of the workforce at some hospitals, especially in rural and border areas.

“There is a fair amount of anxiety,” said Deborah Walker, executive director of the New Mexico Nurses Association, an advocacy group. “It’s just disheartening after years of trying to stabilize the workforce that we’ve got rural areas that are so reliant on out-of-state nurses.”

But the top-ranking Democrats and Republicans in both chambers of the Legislature say they are preparing to move quickly to approve the compact in time to meet the Jan. 19 deadline. Next year’s legislative session starts Jan. 16.

Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said lawmakers “are going to address it swiftly and with broad bipartisan support, ensuring that New Mexico nurses as well as those from other states currently serving our communities will be able to continue practicing without interruption.”

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez said she is encouraged by the Legislature’s plan to act quickly. Her administration is already talking with legislators “to bring about a quick resolution and to continue to make New Mexico the best place to be a nurse.”

Walker said neither the administration nor the Legislature is to blame for the deadline. Medical leaders didn’t expect the new compact, which replaces an old one, to go into effect until the end of 2018, she said.

But the agreement has a provision that moves up the effective date if 26 states sign on to it earlier.

Demetrius Chapman, executive director of the New Mexico Board of Nursing, said the 26th state, North Carolina, didn’t sign the agreement until late July, well after New Mexico’s legislative session was over.

Now that 26 states have approved the compact, it’s set to take effect Jan. 19 – meaning that any states that want to participate must sign on by then.

The new accord allows nurses with a license in one state to practice in another state that’s signed on to the compact. It replaces an older compact, but it has new provisions for criminal background checks and expanded multistate subpoena power for investigations into misconduct.

Chapman said New Mexico already has a background check requirement for its nurses, but the new agreement will ensure that out-of-state nurses who practice in New Mexico also undergo the check.

Traveling nurses are an important part of the workforce in emergency rooms, hospice care and intensive care, Chapman said.

“There’s a nursing shortage everywhere,” he said. “One of the ways that as a society we deal with it is by employing nurses to go where the need is.”

Arizona and Texas have signed the new compact. Colorado is considering it.

Getting a bill through the New Mexico Legislature quickly isn’t easy, but legislative leaders said this week that they understand the need to move fast.

Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said “we fully intend to address and pass it as soon as the session commences.”