(The Center Square) – Minnesota Senate Republicans called on Gov. Tim Walz to temporarily ease licensing restrictions to allow out-of-state health care workers to care for COVID-19 patients in Minnesota.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, asked Walz to activate the Emergency Management Assistance Compact.
That would allow licensed health care workers in other states to become licensed to work in Minnesota automatically.
“We need to do everything possible to give hospitals the flexibility necessary to adequately deal with the COVID-19 pandemic,” Gazelka said in a news release.
“Gov. Walz is wisely preparing for a surge in patients but so far has not implemented this important step to allow Minnesota to bring in needed healthcare workers from other states. Now is the time to do it.”
Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, who chairs the Health and Human Services Committee, asked Walz to take that step on March 20 as allowed by Minnesota statute during a declared emergency.
“All Gov. Walz has to do is ask for help,” Benson said in a news release. “Now is not the time to hold back resources from our hospitals.”
Walz told reporters on a Wednesday conference call that he’s open to the discussion, but no hospital associations have asked him yet to take that step.
“Minnesota has a deep supply of medical personnel and health personnel,” Walz said. “I’m not certain I’m seeing where people are searching and moving around other than where they’re called in an emergency situation.”
Walz said he wanted to ensure out-of-state health care professionals were qualified to work in Minnesota hospitals safely.
“I think each and every state is going to be pressed to the limit on [COVID-19], but I’m certainly open to listening where they’re at,” Walz said.
Rick Fuentes, a spokesperson for the Minnesota Nurses Association, told The Center Square the Republican’s suggestion wasn’t necessary.
“This proposal seems premature at best, as we have hundreds of Registered Nurses in Minnesota threatened with furloughs and layoffs due to current low census and the cancellations of elective procedures.”
Fuentes said those workers want to work, but need to be retrained for Intensive Care Units or their next post, and that hospitals need to implement optimal safety procedures for dealing with COVID-19 patients.
“Seeing as how every state may be needing every Registered Nurse very soon, let’s use our own nurses first before we think about relaxing licensing regulations,” Fuentes said.
John Phelan, an economist at The American Experiment think tank in Golden Valley, said that many licensing restrictions governments are now shedding aren’t necessary, especially during the novel coronavirus crisis but perhaps not even in the first place.
“In the middle of this public health emergency, governments are dumping occupational licensing regulations that were supposedly put in place to protect the public,” Phelan said. “If they’re not needed now, they won’t be later, and we should get rid of them permanently.”