Members of the House’s Judiciary Committee are considering a bill that its sponsors hope will curb West Virginia’s nursing shortage.
House Bill 2522 would enter West Virginia into an agreement with other states to allow nurses to practice across state lines without having to get multiple licenses. The compact would include both registered nurses, or RNs, and licensed practical nurses, or LPNs, who packed the committee room Friday as members debated the bill.
There are currently 25 states in the nation that are part of a nursing licensure compact, including a number of states bordering West Virginia – Virginia, Maryland, and Kentucky for instance.
The first version of the compact was drafted in the late 1990s, and the first states signed on in 2000. In 2015, the compact was revised, adding requirements for background checks for nurses and creating a commission to oversee the agreements. So far, no states have adopted the new compact model from 2015 and West Virginia is the first to consider it.
Supporters of the bill say entering the agreement could help attract nurses to the state who don’t want to go through another licensing process. Del. Amy Summers is a sponsor of the bill. A nurse herself, she says West Virginia has had trouble keeping up with the demand for nurses, but the state has a low cost of living and the pay is good.
“We also have a very low cost of living here," Summers noted, "I have lived in northern Virginia where the cost of living was more than double than what it is in West Virginia. The nurses are making a good wage in our state. There are sign-on bonuses; $10,000 that can attract you in if you want to come to a certain hospital. There are ways to make good money in nursing.”
Groups representing LPNs disagree with Summers though. Greg Chiartas is the President of the West Virginia State Board of Examiners for Licensed Practical Nurses.
“The bottom line is, is that there’s no evidence, at least based upon the surveys from the West Virginia Center for Nursing, that joining this compact is going to resolve any nursing shortage in West Virginia."
Chiartas says entering the agreement could actually pose a problem for the group he represents.
“We are at a saturation point in West Virginia with LPNs; we have 26 schools, we have 8,000 licensed practical nurses in the state, and we don’t have really room or jobs available for additional nurses to be coming in from out-of-state and taking the LPN jobs that we have available,” Chiartas explained.
Bill supporters also say entering the compact could potentially increase the wages for nurses in West Virginia as the state attempts to compete with other members of the compact to keep them. But Chiartas doesn’t think that will be the result.
“Simple economics would dictate that if you have an oversupply, that you would drive down prices," Chiartas said, "You would have increase competition which would drive down the amount of money that these nurses would make.”
Republican Del. Geoff Foster questioned Chiartas if he had evidence regarding other states that have adopted the compact and seen LPN wages drop. Chiartas said he did not.
Aside from just the potential impact to wages, some delegates were concerned that entering the compact would also make it easier for nurses to leave West Virginia.
Republican Del. Ray Hollen asked Chiartas about whether LPNs would have the opportunity to go to other states for higher wages if the state Legislature passed House Bill 2522.
“Certainly they could," Chiartas said, "As of right now, we don’t have a lot of LPNs that leave our state. They take jobs in our state, and they stay in our state.”
Delegates on the House Judiciary Committee adjourned from their morning meeting before voting on the bill, but the committee returned to discuss the bill after the House floor session Friday afternoon. House Bill 2522 was approved on a voice vote and now goes to the full chamber for a vote likely next week.