We’ve known for years that we need more nurses, but the pandemic has really brought the issue to light.
Told at the opening of the 30-day session that New Mexico is short more than 6,220 registered nurses and certified specialist nurses, lawmakers approved $15 million a year to expand nursing education programs. This is a larger commitment than the one-time $15 million they approved at last year’s special session.
Lawmakers passed other measures that benefit nurses, as well as help for nursing homes.
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House Bill 91 streamlines the licensing process in New Mexico for nurses and other out-of-state healthcare workers (often military spouses). This allows them to work while meeting licensing requirements within a year. It passed unanimously in both houses.
These measures are on the governor’s desk.
It’s a beginning. Health experts say lawmakers can’t just tick nursing off their lists. They must have a long term vision.
Higher education needs to hire more faculty and accept more nursing students. But hiring nursing instructors takes nurses away from health care, and teachers’ salaries don’t match what a nurse typically earns.
The situation is much worse in rural areas. Only 16% of nurses live outside cities, but rural residents tend to be older and have more chronic conditions, wrote Charnelle Lee, director of undergraduate nursing programs at Western New Mexico University.
It was feared that the pandemic and the horror stories emerging from hospitals about exhausted and exhausted medical professionals, especially nurses, would discourage registration. But people still want to be nurses, writes Lee, and some of them are people for whom nursing is a second career.
Our institutions are still turning away qualified applicants for lack of capacity, so we desperately need to expand nursing programs. And programs need to accommodate non-traditional students who work other jobs while in school, Lee writes. In my own family, a young woman who worked in a restaurant full time while trying to get into a nursing program failed her exams because she couldn’t juggle the two.
Lee pointed out that nursing programs typically take place in urban areas, but nurses tend to stay in the communities where they were trained. New Mexico fares better in this regard. A look at the state budget reveals funding for the expansion of the program to state college branches.
Another bill awaiting the governor’s signature will indirectly support nursing.
In 2019, a measure was passed by the legislature that gave nursing homes more funding, but it was to be repealed in 2023. Senate Bill 40 makes it permanent.
The state levies a modest daily facility surcharge for people with developmental disabilities for “bed days” not covered by Medicare, according to a legislative analysis. Institutions pay the Department of Taxes and Revenue, which in turn distributes the money to the Fund for Health Care Facilities and the Fund for Health Care Facilities for Persons with Disabilities. The state Department of Human Services, which administers both funds, uses the revenue to obtain federal Medicaid matching funds and increase payment rates to facilities.
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Katrina Hotrum-Lopez, secretary of the Department of Aging and Long-Term Services, expects the funding to help long-term care facilities with staffing, which has been difficult, especially during the pandemic. It will also improve the quality of care.
In 2021, its first year of operation, the program provided an $86 million increase in Medicaid. Part of this funding is paid for performance improvement. To date, HSD has paid $127.21 million to institutions for reporting quality data and improving quality scores.
Much remains to be done to strengthen the ranks of nurses. The last two years have scared us to take the first steps.