Washington state has an opportunity in 2021 to join the Nurse Licensure Compact, a 34-state partnership that allows nurses to practice across state lines. Washington state is facing a significant shortage of specialty nurses, and the Compact would provide much-needed support by allowing nurses to easily join the state’s work force. State lawmakers can enroll Washington state in the Compact by enacting legislation during the 2021 legislative session.
“Being a member of the Compact would have made a tremendous difference in Washington state in 2020,” WSHA President and CEO Cassie Sauer said. “In a sampling taken between February and May of 2020, almost two-thirds of incoming nurses came from a state participating in the Compact. While our state’s nurses worked around the clock combatting the worst public health crisis of our lifetime, there were additional nurses ready to help who couldn’t because of a time-consuming licensing process. Greater efficiency could have been a lifesaver and given our nurses needed support.”
Nurse vacancies place tremendous stress on the state’s nursing work force. The lack of nurses also limits a hospital’s bed capacity, forcing it to turn away patients because there is not adequate staff, even if there is plenty of physical space.
“We see this as common-sense legislation and an important staffing tool which can help reduce the pressure on our state’s nurses,” Sauer said. “It allows our health care system to get more nurses practicing in Washington quickly. We need the help now more than ever, as we continue fighting the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed thousands of our friends, family members and neighbors.”
Currently, the licensing process for nurses takes weeks, if not months, even if the standards for a nurse’s original license are comparable to the standards in Washington state. There are an average of 27 vacancies per hospital in Washington state. Several hospitals have more than 50 vacancies to fill. In a 2018 survey, nearly a third of responding Washington state hospitals reported that the process of recruiting a single nurse took longer than three months.
Through the Compact, nurses complete uniform licensing requirements that allow them to immediately start working in any participating state. This is especially helpful for nurses who relocate, nurses who live in border communities and military families that frequently relocate across the country. It also allows nurses to offer telemedicine across state lines.
If Washington state were to join the Compact, it would still retain enforcement authority for a nurse with a multistate Compact license. Also, nurses would not be required to obtain a multistate license, as participation would be strictly voluntary.