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WV Senate’s Health and Human Resources Committee approves EMS restrictions, creates ‘pathway’ for out of state nurses

By Matthew Young, WV Press News Service

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia Senate’s Health and Human Resources Committee on Thursday discussed several bills that could alter the landscape of West Virginia’s hospitals and prescription policies.

SB 655, which seeks to authorize “tactical medical professionals to carry firearms,”  SB 703, which relates to the scheduling of certain prescription medications as controlled substances, and SB 652, which would require hospitals to receive ambulatory-patients within 60-minutes, were but three pieces of the proposed legislation deliberated by the committee.   

The first business discussed was the committee’s substitute for SB 518. The proposed bill, which was introduced by lead-sponsor and Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, would allow “nurses licensed in another state to practice in WV.” In lieu of a reading of the full bill, Committee Counsel Cindy Dellinger provided an overview of the substitute.

“Essentially the process in the introduced bill related to the temporary permit process,” Dellinger said. “The committee substitute more aligns by striking the 90 days that the temporary permit would be active – making it active until the board would approve or deny the endorsement request.”

Dellinger said, “This can be a pathway to a (WV registered nurses) license, and can be almost instantly obtained.” 

Next discussed was SB 655, introduced by Sen. Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha. Dellinger again provided an overview of the committee’s substitute.

“This bill defines ‘tactical medical professional’ to include EMS personnel, a nurse, a physician – who is trained nationally through a medically recognized equivalent to a tactical combat-care, tactical medical support, or law enforcement (program),” Dellinger told the committee. “The bill provides that a tactical medical professional may carry firearms while on duty in the same manner as law enforcement.”

Dellinger said, if passed by the senate, the bill would afford tactical medical professionals the same protections from civil or criminal penalty that law enforcement receives. The proposed substitute adds that the Committee on Crime, Delinquency and Correction will be empowered to designate the standard by which medical tactical professionals must abide. It also would remove any requirement that the tactical medical professional possess a concealed-carry permit. 

SB 703, as introduced by Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, was then discussed, with Dellinger once more providing an overview, saying, “As I understand it, the state police have recommended a number of these drugs (for scheduling or reclassification) that are in this abstract. These drugs are recommended for the schedule to come into compliance with the federal controlled substances schedule, and drugs that are tested and come up during sampling in the state.”

The committee then spent nearly 25-minutes deliberating SB 652. The proposed bill, as explained by Dellinger, “requires that no hospital shall refuse to receive, refuse to treat or unreasonably delay the receipt of (an ambulatory) patient.” 

The committee’s substitute removes the words “unreasonably delay” from the original language, and specifies that hospitals accept ambulatory-patients within 60-minutes of arrival via EMS, thereby relieving EMS of any further obligation. 

In response to a question from Sen. Michael Azinger, R-Wood, regarding why the 60-minute requirement was necessary, Committee Chair Sen. Michael Maroney, R-Marshall, said, “There has been an issue with a very small number of hospitals where ambulance crews are waiting. When they show up, they can’t just drop the patient off and leave – the hospital has to sign for the patient. It’s sometimes hours. Therefore other people in the county aren’t being served by the EMS. And it has become a problem.”

Maroney further said, “One small thing like that creates a log jam for the entire process. You throw a nursing shortage and a pandemic on top of that, and you’ve got a big problem.”

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jack David Woodrum, R-Summer, questioned State Health Officer Ayne Amjad about the existing process of collecting EMS run-data. 

“Right now most of our information, we are getting it from the different EMS agencies with how much time is being spent on the ground, waiting to transfer a patient to the hospital,” Amjad stated. “So we don’t have that actual information that we can put out right now. We hear different things from different agencies of wait times anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours to six hours.”

Amjad further explained that it is vital to have a better understanding of the percentage of patients truly in need of hospital care as opposed to those who could be effectively serviced through other medical facilities, such as urgent care. 

Jim Kaufman, president and CEO of the WV Hospital Association, was last to provide testimony.  

“It’s an operational issue,” Kaufman told the committee. “We’re short staffed within the hospitals, as well as EMS is short staffed. The entire healthcare delivery system has been overwhelmed. Instead of requiring hospitals to take the patient, I think we need to look at how we improve the operations of the entire delivery system.”

SB 652 and SB 703, as well as the proposed substitutes for SB 518 and SB 655 were all adopted by the committee with the recommendation that they be passed by the full senate. 

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