Illinois faced nursing shortage before COVID-19 stressed health care

Illinois faced nursing shortage before COVID-19 stressed health care

An impending health care worker shortage argues for a bill that would allow Illinois to join a multi-state nursing license compact. Nurses could see improved job options.

COVID-19 stress is pushing health care workers out of the profession, but Illinois was facing a nursing shortage before the pandemic with 52% of its nurses age 55 or older.

The state being one of the few that requires its own nursing license doesn’t help, but a recently filed bill is intended to fix that.

Madalyn Mauro, 24, had problems getting an Illinois license that included lost paperwork and trouble getting someone on the phone. Then there was the mandate to give her fingerprints in person in Chicago.

“I had to drive five hours from Des Moines to Chicago just to get fingerprinted because they wouldn’t accept Iowa prints,” Mauro said.

Mauro has been a labor and delivery nurse at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights, Illinois, for roughly four months. That is not much longer than the time she spent trying to obtain an Illinois license after graduating from the University of Iowa.

Her classmates breezed through the licensing process in Iowa. When they had their licenses, they also obtained 34 states worth of job options because Iowa is in the Nurse Licensure Compact that allows them to work in any of the member states.

“I wanted to work in Illinois, but [the Illinois license] was very limiting as far as future career options,” she said.

Worse yet, while Mauro was navigating through the interview process with a couple of hospitals in the Chicago area, COVID-19 hit and the hospitals put a hold on new hires.

“It put me in a tough situation,” Mauro said. “I needed a job, but I couldn’t transfer my [Illinois] license. I had to get a new license just to get a job back in Iowa, which cost hundreds of dollars.”

Illinois might be about to fix some of the problems Mauro faced.

State Rep. Michael Zalewski, D-Riverside, has introduced House Bill 580 that would bring Illinois into the Nurse Licensure Compact. It would allow qualified nurses to obtain a license that would transfer to all 34 states now in the compact or nurses with a multi-state license to practice in Illinois.

“I refiled the Nurse Licensure Compact because I believe that nurses in Illinois should have the ability to use their licensure in surrounding states,” Zalewski said. “The bill is carefully crafted and narrowly tailored to ensure patient safety, and I hope it will advance out of the House this spring.”

Currently, all of Illinois’ neighboring states participate in the compact, which is a double negative for Illinois. The state’s licensing process not only makes it harder for nurses to come to Illinois, it reduces the incentive for nurses to work in Illinois when they know the license won’t transfer to other states.

Those could become serious issues very soon.

Illinois is experiencing an increase in aging baby boomers who are likely to need more health care. At the same time, its roughly 185,000 registered nurses are aging – with more than half of them over age 55, and 27% of nurses planning to retire within five years. Given that wave of retirements, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation predicted a nursing shortage within five years, and that prediction was made with 2018 data.

The same shortage was also predicted for about 220,000 licensed practical nurses in Illinois, with 22% near retirement. Licenses for both RNs and LPNs are covered by the Nurse Licensure Compact, and the bill would add both types of licenses to the compact. Illinois would still maintain its own nursing licenses and recognize existing licenses but would add multi-state licensing and recognize compact licenses if the bill passes.

Mauro is eager for the bill to pass.

“I’m all for it,” she said. “Being a nurse is a great career. Being part of the compact allows us to travel to other states without the headache of transferring our license. It’s one less thing to worry about, and it saves hundreds of dollars each time.”

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