BY RENEE UNTERMAN
As a former nurse and now an advocate for the nursing profession, I’ve closely followed the work of nurses on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. In recent days, I’ve spoken to nurses in our community, and I’ve heard how they’re ready, willing and able to fight this pandemic. We must ensure our nurses and all healthcare professionals have the resources they need, and we must pray for their safety as they lead the fight in medical facilities around the nation.
These days bring difficult times. As Southerners, we’re used to shaking hands and hugging neighbors. Social distancing and this pandemic have significantly reshaped the way we interact. We’ve seen friends and family affected – whether economically when a loved one is furloughed from a job, or whether infected with the coronavirus and struggling to recover without spreading the virus on to loved ones.
In emergency rooms, clinics, on telemedicine calls – and even hospital ships – nurses are providing critical care to patients in need. Speaking with friends in the profession, nurses are working long hours and making significant sacrifices in their personal lives. Nurses have become on-the-ground teachers, educating other medical staff on proper PPE use and removal, prevention techniques and properly administering testing.
I know nurses who are taking extraordinary precautions to stop community spread by staying in hotels in between shifts instead of going home to their families. Others have not seen their children in weeks out of concern for unknowingly exposing their children to the Coronavirus. Nurses are also being called to deliver somber news to families who cannot be at the bedside of an ill loved one, often at a tremendous psychological cost to the nurse.
In the days and weeks ahead, nurses, doctors, respiratory technicians, and first responders will continue to serve our communities and save the lives of our community’s most vulnerable citizens. This week, nurses in the local community repeatedly expressed to me their request for the public: “Keep staying home!” Echoing guidance issued by President Donald Trump, Gov. Brian Kemp’s shelter-in-place executive order and the CDC, nurses are asking that we remember to practice social distancing now to flatten the curve of infection.
To best empower the nurses and other healthcare professionals saving lives, I hope Georgia will continue to cut red tape and support frontline healthcare providers. I previously wrote and passed legislation for state license reciprocity, speeding up the review process for nurses licensed in other states to practice in Georgia – either in-person or through telemedicine. In recent years, I also sponsored and passed legislation to increase Georgia’s telemedicine capabilities, as telemedicine is essential for rural and underserved areas to access effective care and essential specialists as quickly as possible. Now more than ever, we see the significant value of patients having digital access to their providers, and we need all hands on deck to provide care in the most affected areas.
I respectfully encourage Gov. Kemp to consider implementing the full recommendations of President Trump’s Administration in order to make healthcare delivery more streamlined during this public health crisis, as needed, including allowing retired or inactive nurses in good standing to temporarily reinstate their licenses and relaxing scope of practice requirements for Advanced Practice Registered Nurses and other healthcare professionals. Georgia must allow nurses to practice at the level of what they learned in their academic preparation. Today, Georgia has some of the most restrictive scopes of practice laws in the nation, to the detriment of the patients who need care the most. To best serve all those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, these scope of practice restrictions should be removed to allow healthcare professionals to do what they do best – care for patients.
I appreciate the tremendous efforts of President Trump, Gov. Kemp, and local leaders working tirelessly to combat this pandemic. I hope you’ll join me in praying for the safety of the nurses and healthcare professionals on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as those who have lost loved ones to this deadly virus. These are challenging times for all Americans, but together, we will unite and come out on the other side even stronger than before.
Unterman represents portions of Gwinnett County in the Georgia Senate and is a Republican candidate for Georgia’s 7th Congressional District.