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PA drags its feet on CRNAs

A proposed measure not acted upon by the Pennsylvania General Assembly prior to the conclusion of its two-year legislative session does not carry over automatically to the following session. In order for the measure to have any hope of becoming law, it must be reintroduced and get back onto the beginning of the legislative “road.”

One proposal in Harrisburg’s current session that merits passage but which is in danger of being a victim of inaction, as it has been in the past, would provide professional certified registered nurse anesthetist — CRNA — recognition under Pennsylvania’s Professional Nursing Law for those nurses qualifying for that designation.

According to an April 20 press release from the Pennsylvania Association of Nurse Anesthetists, Pennsylvania is one of only two states that fail to recognize nurse anesthetists as “CRNAs” under their nursing laws.

In those two states, the nurses in question are recognized only as registered nurses, despite their additional education, training, clinical experience and scope of practice. But, the association says, they are hands-on providers of anesthesia care, practicing in all settings where anesthesia is administered.

Nevertheless, hospitals and other health-care facilities in this state are unable to use them to their full capacity, the association contends, because they have not been accorded the official professional recognition by state government to work fully in the advanced way that their training should allow.

If that is true, that withholding-of-designation is sad testimony regarding this state’s ability to put to full use all of its available health-care resources.

With the coronavirus pandemic wreaking a toll within the commonwealth’s borders, the Legislature shouldn’t be dragging its feet regarding action that people of this state deem obvious and lacking evidence for delay. The association points to polls indicating that 67 percent of Pennsylvania voters support the CRNA designation for the nurses in question.

Keystone State medical facilities must be able to rely on all of the talents and dedication that they can muster, but this state has lost — and probably will continue to lose — nurse anesthetists to other states that give them the full professional designation and compensation they have earned.

It is ironic that Pennsylvania has kept the CRNA issue on the back burner despite being recognized as a leader in anesthesia education and training.

There are 13 university-led programs here.

Bipartisan measures have been introduced in the Pennsylvania House and Senate to recognize nurse anesthetists as CRNAs. One bill — Senate Bill 325, sponsored by Sen. John R. Gordner, R-Columbia, received Senate approval last year and remains under consideration in the House Professional Licensure Committee.

However, amid the disruptions that COVID-19 has inflicted, time is dwindling for the full General Assembly to move the Gordner legislation to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk before the current legislative session ends.

Supporters of the legislation note that 49,000 CRNAs safely administer well over 34 million anesthetics nationwide each year. In Pennsylvania, nurse anesthetists must graduate from an accredited nurse anesthesia program, complete many hours of additional clinical work and pass a national exam, in order to be able to practice.

Yet, up to now, lawmakers have not rendered the right decision.

The current foot-dragging by Harrisburg deserves serious rethinking.

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