Lawmakers Support Increasing Access to Anesthesia Care for Veterans; Rally Behind Nurse Anesthetists

  • Dec 20, 2016

For Immediate Release:  December 20, 2016   
For more Information, contact:  AANA Public Relations
Park Ridge, Illinois—While encouraged by the recent efforts of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to decrease long wait times for veterans to receive essential healthcare services, lawmakers are still urging the VA to grant full practice authority to Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) to ensure the timeliness of procedures that require anesthesia care.
On Dec. 14, the VA published its final rule in the Federal Register granting full practice authority to all advanced practice registered nursing specialties (nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, clinical nurse specialists) except CRNAs. The VA admitted in the rule that CRNAs are well-qualified for full practice authority, but didn’t include them because there isn’t a shortage of anesthesia providers in VHA facilities. In making its decision, the VA appeared to ignore data from a 2015 congressionally mandated special assessment of Veterans Health Administration (VHA) facilities which warned that veterans are experiencing delays for healthcare services due to lack of anesthesia support, especially in the areas of cardiovascular surgery, colonoscopy, and procedures outside of the operating room.
“While there may not be a shortage of anesthesia providers in the VHA,” said Cheryl Nimmo, DNP, MSHSA, CRNA, president of the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA), “clearly there’s an underutilization of existing resources, especially CRNAs who are qualified and ready to deliver services that ensure veterans timely access to needed healthcare.”
In a highly unusual move, the VA added a 30-day public comment period to the rule to help determine “whether there are access issues or other unconsidered circumstances that might warrant [CRNAs’] inclusion in a future rulemaking.” This is the second public comment period on the full practice authority issue; the current comment period expires on Jan. 13, 2017.
“While this is a major step forward in supporting our veterans, I would have liked to see the VA grant nurse anesthetists full authority to practice as well. I’ll keep working with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to ensure that CRNAs gain full practice authority so that they can provide our wounded warriors with care to the full extent of their abilities,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR). Merkley, along with Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD), sponsored the bipartisan Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act to help ensure veterans get the care they need from APRNs.
“After a lifetime of service to our nation, veterans deserve nothing but the best medical support. But unfortunately, all too many of our wounded warriors face significant hurdles to accessing the healthcare they need to thrive upon their return to civilian life,” said Merkley. “In order to support our veterans to the best of their ability, our medical professionals must be able to practice to the full extent of their education, training, and certification.”
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) welcomed the news that the VA had granted full practice authority to three of the four APRN specialties, but felt the agency needed to take the next step by including CRNAs.
“It’s maddening that our nation’s veterans are forced to wait for care due to a shortage of medical personnel when trained APRNs are standing by, ready to help but blocked by needless bureaucracy,” said DeFazio, adding that he urges the VA to quickly approve the ability of CRNAs to practice at the same level as other APRNs. “I’m proud to have sponsored the House version of the Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act and look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate next Congress to continue to push the VA to address unnecessary personnel shortages that are hurting our veterans.”
“Allowing these highly-qualified registered nurses to put their training to practice will help address delays at VA hospitals and clinics across the country,” said Durbin. “I commend Secretary McDonald and Under Secretary Shulkin for taking steps to remove barriers to healthcare access by increasing the number of qualified medical professionals providing primary care to our nation’s veterans, and hope the VA can extend full practice authority to CRNAs in the future as well.”
Currently there are more than 900 CRNAs already practicing in VHA facilities. “By granting full practice authority to these highly qualified providers, the VHA can increase anesthesia services and veterans’ access to care without additional funding from the federal government or American taxpayers,” said Nimmo.
To send a comment letter in support of granting full practice authority to CRNAs to ensure timely access to anesthesia care for veterans, visit Veterans Access To Care.


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