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Health care groups say lack of reciprocity aggravates nurse shortage

AVON, Ind. (WISH) — A nurse administrator on Wednesday said Indiana’s current nurse licensing regulations hamper her ability to bring new nurses onto staff.

Rachel Culpepper, the general medicine service line director at IU Health West Hospital, said Indiana’s nursing shortage forces her and her team to move nurses around to different units within the hospital to ensure they can adequately staff those spaces. In some cases, she said she has had to close beds due to lack of staff, though she has not had to do that as often recently.

“This issue is so important because it can affect our patients’ access to care,” she said. “We have lots of patients that come through our emergency departments every day and we want to care for these patients, but when we have patients waiting for an inpatient bed, that poses a different challenge to be able to get to the patients as timely as we want.”

Indiana’s nurse licensing laws have only limited reciprocity with other states. The Indiana Hospital Association, a nonprofit that serves as the professional trade association for more than 170 Hoosier hospitals, says its top legislative priority will be looser reciprocity rules to allow nurses who are licensed in other states to get their paperwork approved more quickly. The state already has a system by which unlicensed health care workers can receive an expedited, temporary license, but that program is only active as long as the federal COVID-19 emergency declaration remains in effect. Health care advocates said they want to make that system permanent. Brian Tabor, president of Indiana Hospital Association, said state officials are working on some of those issues already but it will a few years before everything is in place. He said lawmakers should give the Indiana Professional Licensing Agency the resources it needs to make those changes more quickly.

“We desperately need nurses and physicians coming into Indiana from other parts of the country and the quicker we can get that individual licensed in the hospital or doctor’s office working and seeing patients, that’s what we need right now,” he said.

Culpepper said loosening the reciprocity rules won’t solve the staffing issues she faces but they will be a big help. She said IU Health recruits health care workers from around the country and the world and reducing red tape will help her work new staff into her schedules more quickly.

Tabor said he is not yet aware of any draft legislation to change the reciprocity rules. The 2023 legislative session begins Jan. 9.