The Arizona Nurses Association tells us what bills they’re watching this session

The Arizona Nurses Association (AzNA) has been voicing its support for numerous bills that align with their legislative priorities this session, bills which they believe would benefit a group of professionals who have been among the most impacted by COVID-19. Robin Schaeffer, policy analyst and former executive director of AzNA, spoke with State of Reform about some of the highest priority legislation the association is supporting this session.

 

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“Nurses have really been hit this year. I think that has increased awareness, not only with the legislators but with the community, of what a nurse actually does, what our job is and some of the challenging areas that we’re in. So I think, if anything positive comes out of this, it is going to be that bills that are really important to us that we think are going to be better for patient safety and [be beneficial for] the profession will all pass through.”

House Bill 2620 would protect health care workers from patient assault — something health professionals confront frequently, according to sponsor Rep. Amish Shah. Schaeffer said AzNA has supported this bill the past two years it was in the Legislature. She testified in support of the bill in front of the House Health and Human Services (HHS) Committee when it was first introduced this year.

The House recently passed HB 2620, and it currently awaits approval from the Senate. Schaeffer said she is optimistic that it will become law this year.

With the anticipated loss of retiring nurses exacerbated by an increased nurse shortage due to the pandemic, AzNA is supporting HB 2633 in order to fortify and increase the nursing workforce through the creation of a “nursing workgroup.” Schaeffer explained that Arizona is losing not only nurses who are retiring but younger nurses who are experiencing COVID-19-related trauma. 

The 18-member workgroup would bridge the gap between a nurse’s education and their practice by reviewing the nursing curriculum to ensure it prepares them enough for on-site nursing practice. The group would also evaluate the feasibility of establishing a nurse residency pilot program.

According to Schaeffer, nurses often face new, difficult challenges when they first arrive in a hospital setting following their education. She said new nurses have proved to have higher retention rates when they are assisted with this transition.

Schaeffer explained the unfamiliar challenges recent nursing school graduates face upon entry into the workforce:

“It’s the complexity of the patients — they’re getting more and more complex. It’s the institution that you’re working within — learning all the culture of that institution. We’re advocating for nurses to have an orientation that’s not just three days long. A lot of them are twelve weeks, but it’s really the substance of what’s in that twelve weeks.”

The bill passed through the HHS Committee, but has yet to be passed on the House floor.

Civil liabilities are another key priority for AzNA, as indicated by their support of SB 1377, which has yet to pass through the Senate. This bill protects a broad array of individuals and institutions from COVID-19-related civil liability claims, but AzNA is particularly focused on its protection of health care workers. Schaeffer described it as a codified continuation of Gov. Doug Ducey’s “Good Samaritan” Executive Order, which guards Arizona’s frontline health care workers from allegations of medical negligence during the pandemic as long as they acted in “good faith.”

“The bill would make it more difficult to succeed on a claim against a health care professional during the COVID emergency, specifically [for] allegations of acts of omission.”

The association is advocating for easier access to nursing education for low-income families through HB 2833. Supported by Ducey, this bill is still making its way through the House and would establish a two-year pilot child care assistance program for income-eligible families to support parents pursuing nursing or education degrees. It would allocate $5 million in FY 21-22 and $10 million in FY 22-23 from the federal child care development fund block grant to fund the program.

Schaeffer described how this will help increase the profession’s workforce:

“That [bill] is going to help our pipeline, our shortage and the inability of some of our lower income students — some of them are single parents — to actually attend nursing school because their child care would be subsidized.”

Schaeffer also explained why AzNA is supporting SB 1278, which would require advanced practice registered nurse students to complete a preceptorship before graduating nursing school. Through these preceptorships, licensed health professionals would provide soon-to-be graduates with knowledge and skills to prepare them for their practice as nurses. Schaeffer says preceptors like this are scarce, perhaps due to a lack of awareness of the benefit they provide for new nurses.

“What this bill does is require the Nursing Board to develop a preceptorship awareness campaign. So they’re going to educate our advanced practice nurses on how to become a preceptor and what the benefit is.”

The Senate has not yet voted to pass SB 1278.