Nurses and health care lobbyists encouraged lawmakers Tuesday to allow Massachusetts to join a 20-year-old interstate compact, pitching it as a strategy to tackle the state’s nursing shortage, boost access to telehealth and streamline providers’ ability to care for patients across state lines.
The state’s potential entry to the compact is addressed this session in proposals from Sen. Barry R. Finegold, among others. Nicole Livanos, director of state affairs for the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, said it would save time and money for nurses who must currently hold multiple licenses if they are looking to practice in Massachusetts and other states.
“In order to get a multistate license, you have to meet 11 uniform license requirements, so we know that those represent some of the highest licensure requirements across the country, including a criminal background check, passing the NCLEX (exam), graduating from an approved program, and having no active discipline,” Livanos told the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing.
Through the compact, Livanos said Massachusetts nursing students would gain flexibility over where they choose to live and practice after earning their degrees here.
Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island are among the 41 states that are already part of the Nurse Licensure Compact. The Health Policy Commission recommended in May 2021 that Massachusetts join the compact, outlining benefits such as boosting the Commonwealth’s ability to handle future pandemics and other emergencies, address workforce challenges and help the health care system adapt and become more flexible in a post-COVID era.
Sen. Cindy Friedman, co-chair of the committee, reminded colleagues at the start of the hearing about 19,000 unfilled hospital positions, according to a report released last year from the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association. She noted that licensed practical nurses have the highest vacancy rate of 56%.
“Without a workforce, let’s be clear, we have no health care system,” Friedman said. “It’s time for us to look at all of our options. Everything should be on the table.”
The committee hasn’t advanced previous proposals to join the compact.