Health & Science

Legislators Grappling with State-Wide Shortage of Healthcare Workers

A Texas Legislative Committee met this week in Houston to discuss urgent health problems facing the state. Among them, the shortage of primary care doctors and the role nurses may play in filling the gap.


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Texas is now embarking on a massive reorganization of its hospital finance system, one that will force competing hospitals to band together in regional partnerships.

Health Commissioner Thomas Suehs told the public health committee that the change will be hard at first.

But it will also encourage patients to seek medical care in primary care offices instead of going to the emergency room. 

“Keep in mind you’ve got six and a half million Texas without health insurance. Now, we don’t debate about whether they get healthcare. They’re getting healthcare but they’re not getting healthcare in the most cost effective manner.”

But the reorganization won’t solve the problem of Texas’ medical workforce.

Simply put, the state’s population is booming, and millions of Texans are aging.

“We got behind.”

Garnet Coleman is a state representative from Houston who serves on the public health committee:

“So we have a nursing shortage. And that nursing shortage has led to the need to actually educate more nurses.  The same has happened with doctors except it’s about what specialties that they choose. And so we have a lower graduation rate of primary care physicians.”

Coleman says he will introduce a bill that will allow advanced practice nurses to provide more primary care.

Currently, higher-level nurses in Texas can treat patients and prescribe drugs under the supervision of a doctor.

But the rules in Texas are so cumbersome that nurses are being underutilized.

Kathy Hutto is with the Coalition for Nurses in Advanced Practice.

“There’s just a lot of bureaucratic hoops that people have to jump through in Texas that they don’t have to in 35 other states.”

Hutto says the outdated rules are preventing nurses from helping out in areas where there aren’t enough doctors:

“When these laws were originally passed back in the ‘80s no one had ever thought of electronic health records, no one had thought of people texting each other or tele-health being used where someone who is miles and miles away being able to consult with a nurse practitioner through using Skype. The world has changed and the laws haven’t changed with them.”

Hutto says she thinks Texas legislators are beginning to realize that giving nurses more leeway will help the state deal with rising health care costs.

The public health committee will use the testimony from this week to draft new bills when the legislature meets again next spring.

From the KUHF Heath and Science Desk, I’m Carrie Feibel.


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