One year ago I wrote an op-ed about the health care crisis in rural Oklahoma. At that time, as the administrator of Cordell Memorial Hospital, I’d been trying to recruit a second physician for 18 months.

A year later, that situation hasn’t changed. Despite a competitive salary and generous benefits, the position remains unfilled. 

The residents of Cordell are not alone in seeing their access to health care dwindle to the point of crisis. It’s happening in rural communities across Oklahoma and around our nation.

Each year, rural Americans have fewer and fewer choices for their health care, wait longer for appointments and drive farther for the care they do receive.

House Bill 1013, by Rep. Josh Cockroft, is a step toward changing that. The measure would allow nurse practitioners (NPs) to practice to the full scope of their education and training and eliminate the unnecessary requirement that they pay for a collaborative agreement with a physician.

Let’s be clear: nothing in HB 1013 changes the scope of practice for NPs in Oklahoma. NPs are already working in communities across our state without any supervision from physicians.

The so-called collaborative agreements are often nothing more than a formality, but a formality that can cost an NP tens of thousands of dollars each year.

Furthermore, current law states that physicians can only have agreements with up to two NPs. That places a hard cap on the number of NPs allowed to work in Oklahoma, and it’s rural residents who suffer most under that limit.

Our state ranks 49th in physician-to-patient ratio and study after study shows poor marks for the health of our residents.

That’s not a coincidence. Oklahomans are sicker and die younger for a host of factors, including a lack of access to affordable, quality health care.

Giving full practice authority to nurse practitioners is not a radical idea. It’s law in 21 other states, including neighboring Colorado and New Mexico. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recently granted full practice authority to NPs working in V.A. facilities across the country.

My community has more need than we can meet at Cordell Memorial Hospital. Local residents sometimes must travel out of town for care because there simply aren’t enough providers to meet the demand for appointments.

If HB 1013 becomes law, I’d be able to hire two or more nurse practitioners to address this need. Our hospital would be better able to serve the needs of the community and provide quality and affordable health care.

If HB 1013 does not become law, the situation is unlikely to improve. It will get worse. Hospitals and clinics throughout rural Oklahoma will continue to close, leaving residents with even fewer choices than they have today.

I see a nurse practitioner for my own primary care. I work with NPs every day and can testify to their skills, education, abilities and professionalism, yet they are held back by an outdated regulation.

We can do better for rural Oklahoma. We can do more to improve the health and wellbeing of our neighbors. We can do more to ensure that all Oklahomans have access to the health care they need.

Nurse practitioners are ready to be a part of the solution. The legislature should cut the red tape and let them do their jobs.

Landon Hise is the chief executive officer of Cordell Memorial Hospital and a member of the Oklahoma Hospital Association’s Council on Rural Health. He is also the president of the Cordell Chamber of Commerce.

 

Oklahoma NPs plan event in OKC

Members of the Association of Oklahoma Nurse Practitioners will host a Legislative Day at the state Capitol on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017, to learn about upcoming legislative issues and speak with state lawmakers.

All nurse practitioners and advanced practice registered nurses are invited to attend.

The legislative day is set to begin at 9 a.m. at the Oklahoma History Center, 800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive.

Attendees will hear from several speakers, then walk to the Capitol to visit with legislators. The event concludes with a provided lunch.

The Association of Oklahoma Nurse Practitioners (AONP) this year is advocating for House Bill 1013, authored by state Rep. Josh Cockroft, R-Wanette.

The bill would allow nurse practitioners to better serve Oklahomans who lack convenient access to health care.

To RSVP or for more information, persons interested may visit www.npofoklahoma.com.