Nursing shortage during COVID-19 argues for multi-state licenses in Illinois

Nursing shortage during COVID-19 argues for multi-state licenses in Illinois

Multi-state nursing licenses would help Illinois with long-term senior care, help nurses cross state lines to fight a pandemic and help Illinois face a coming nursing shortage.

Understaffing and overcrowding in Illinois nursing homes that helped spread the virus during the COVID-19 pandemic has elder care advocates demanding policy solutions from Springfield, with a new study outlining the issues.

During the pandemic, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed multiple executive orders allowing temporary nursing assistants to take on the duties of a certified nursing assistant to address a growing shortage in senior care facilities. Elder care advocates pointed to time-intensive Illinois licensing requirements and the state’s overreliance on long-term care facilities for active elderly as major contributors to the shortage and spread of the virus.

Illinois licensing requirements also impacted registered nurses and licensed practical nurses during the pandemic, said Karen Messer, president and CEO of elder care association LeadingAge Illinois.

“What we could have done in some of those peak moments of the pandemic, those peak times where cases were exploding, we could have had nurses from other states come in to alleviate some of the pressure. I think that that would have been an enormous help for professional nurses as they struggled to meet the needs,” Messer told NPR Illinois.

But Illinois faced a nursing shortage before COVID-19, with the bulk of both LPNs and registered nurses over age 55 and heading toward retirement within five years. Then the pandemic stressed health care workers, and started pushing them out of the profession early.

One solution to the shortages is for state lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 2068, sponsored by state Sen. Sarah Feigenholtz, D-Chicago. It would add Illinois to a multistate Nurse Licensure Compact, allowing nurses and LPNs licensed in any of the 34 participating states to practice in any other member state.

“The medical professional shortage here in Illinois is very obvious when you go to work here,” said Majdi Razick, a veteran certified nursing assistant from Chicago who is currently becoming a registered nurse. “When I have taken shifts up during this pandemic, I will have 20 to 30 patients to care for. I have patients that need to be seen at least once every two hours and others hourly.”

Illinois is one of only a few states that requires its own nursing license without offering reciprocity for licenses from other states, creating a costly and time-intensive obstacle for nurses. It also stops nurses from crossing state lines to get to problem areas during a pandemic.

“The compact license could help afford me the opportunity to contribute to fighting the pandemic and sharing my skills and knowledge at other hospitals without the headache of obtaining new licenses for every different state I travel to,” said Ali Conrad, a registered nurse in Chicago who needed a new license to help with the pandemic in California.

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.

“Getting the Illinois license took months because they aren’t in the compact. I had to drive five hours from Des Moines to Chicago just to get fingerprinted because they wouldn’t accept Iowa prints,” said Madalyn Mauro, a labor and delivery nurse in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

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.

The Illinois Senate has repeatedly pushed back the deadline for the nursing bill to pass, with the current deadline May 21 ahead of the General Assembly’s adjournment on May 31. That is a good sign, and state lawmakers should grab the opportunity to address the health care needs of an aging population.

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