It’s hard enough waiting for a nurse when you ring the call bell from your hospital bed, or are homebound in need of home health assistance. We already have a nursing shortage, and nurses work short-staffed all too often.
But, you should not be waiting longer than necessary because our state’s Board of Nursing doesn’t have the right number of qualified staff to license, test, and provide the required education programs to make sure new nurses can get to work.
The Board of Nursing oversees the licensing for all nurses and home health aides, establishes educational program and practice standards for these professionals, responds to complaints or disciplinary actions, and sets policy for nursing practice. All of that work is now being hindered by short-staffing and under-funding of the agency.
The board is so understaffed that some nurses are waiting 2 or 3 months to take their licensing test. According to some legal advocates, even the investigatory functions of the Board are tied up for months. That’s not just a problem for nurses, but it’s a problem for patients too.
If the Board of Nursing does not have the resources it needs to properly oversee the licensing and professional practice standards of 140,000 NJ Registered Nurses, the impact will be felt by New Jersey’s families when they are sick and in need of nursing care. And, that is unfortunately what is happening in New Jersey today.
Even though New Jersey’s 140,000 nurses’ pay licensing fees that produce revenues of more than $12 million a year to the Board of Nurses, it appears that the Board actually had little more than $5 million to operate in 2016, and $8 million was diverted to the state in ‘assessments’, leaving the Board short-staffed and underfunded. Since 2015, the Board has doubled its use of temporary personnel, while full time professional staff dwindled. Now, even the Director has left in frustration, and the Board, known as dedicated and apolitical, has raised a public clamor.
As NJ’s largest union of nurses and health professionals, in our work with the Board and other professional agencies, we witness the results of the backlog on bedside nurses. The work of the Board of Nursing is essential in making sure that all nurses have the skills, education and training to meet the highest standards for care, and that all nurses are practicing to that standard. That is equally true for the other professions within the Board’s responsibilities, like home health aides. It is a mission that really matters when you in that hospital bed, or when your elderly relative is dependent on their home health care.
In the midst of a nursing shortage, a few thousand nurses – new graduates and those from other states or countries – are sometimes waiting months to get entered into a data-base so they can take the test needed to gain a New Jersey license and begin their practice. Consumer affairs spokespeople claim this only happens in late spring, when new nurses graduate and apply in large numbers to take their licensing test. But that is exactly the time when the Board should be most prepared.
The Board also has investigated complaints filed against nurses. These cases deserve a thorough investigation, to protect patients, as well as the rights of nurses. Some nurses have said that they have waited months, even a year, for an investigation to begin after they have had a complaint filed against them. And, it can take months to get a final determination from the Board. In the meantime, nurses are virtually unemployable. In far too many cases, good nurses have had their livelihoods and reputations destroyed, only to have their case overturned months and months later.
The Board of Nursing also has responsibility for patient complaints, which must be heard and resolved within one year, though advocates claim those deadlines are being missed. Again, spokespeople for Consumer Affairs, the umbrella agency for the Board of Nursing, says these claims are exaggerated.
That’s why we have a Legislative Oversight Committee, and we join with our Senators in calling for hearings to understand the extent, causes and solutions to the delays, as well as the level of resources available to the Board to do its job, so that nurses can do theirs. In the current bottleneck, no one is being served, neither patients nor nurses.
Ann Twomey funded and leads HPAE, the largest union of registered nurses and health care professionals in New Jersey. Since its founding by Englewood Hospital nurses in 1974, HPAE has expanded across the state and into Southeastern Pennsylvania representing 13,000 nurses, social workers, therapists, technicians, medical researchers, and other health care professionals in hospitals, nursing homes, home care agencies, blood banks, and university research facilities. HPAE is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO.