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Arlington lawmaker’s bills could ease stretched thin health care workers, teachers

Sign outside of Virginia Hospital Center (photo courtesy Adam Dunham)

A pair of bills proposed by an Arlington lawmaker in the General Assembly could help bolster the ranks of health care workers and teachers stretched thin during the pandemic.

The bills introduced by state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31) expedite the licensure process in both industries, allowing workers with licenses in other states to begin work upon being hired. The bills passed the Virginia Senate uncontested and will be considered in the House after the crossover deadline on Feb. 15.

Health care and education industries have dealt with staffing shortages during the pandemic as Covid patients filled hospital beds and teachers have dealt with cases in schools.

If Senate Bill 317 becomes law, hospitals, nursing homes and dialysis facilities would be able to hire workers who have licenses in other states as they await a Virginia license.

“Our facilities right now are having a very hard time staffing up, it is a quality of care issue when you don’t have enough nurses on your floor, our patients are not getting the attention they need,” Favola said to the Education and Health Subcommittee on Health Professions.

Similarly, Senate Bill 68 would allow teachers who are licensed to teach outside the United States to begin working under a provisional license for up to three years. The Department of Education would review the application and the individual could then start in classrooms, Favola told the Education and Health Subcommittee on Education.

“This is an effort to enable those who really have the ability and the interest and the talent to teach in an area that we right now are suffering incredible shortages,” she said. “Our school systems are struggling to keep teachers.”

Several educational associations spoke in favor of the bill, as well as someone who worked with refugee resettlement.

“We did have some concerns in the beginning but [Favola] addressed all those concerns, specifically with verifying those credentials… so we are in support of it,” said Shane Riddle, with the Virginia Education Association.

Favola confirmed there would be confirmation of licensure before they would be hired.

Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, chair of the subcommittee, said she hopes SB 68 will be a step toward addressing the shortage but also “be able to take professionals who come in with the skills and the knowledge, the credentials and be able to participate readily within our own school system.”

The health care licensure bill would put into state law what existed under emergency orders former Gov. Ralph Northam put in place last year. Gov. Glenn Youngkin has since also issued an emergency order, set to expire Feb. 21, that also allows a health care practitioner with a license and in good standing in another state to practice in Virginia.

Under the bill, the health care worker would work on a provisional license and within 90 days the Bureau of Health Professions would issue a Virginia license, Favola said. If the license is not issued within 90 days, there can be an extension of 60 days.

It would also allow for professionals practicing in states surrounding Virginia to get expedited requests for state licensure if their state enters a reciprocal agreement. The bill would take effect as soon as it becomes law.

Hospitals are in a staffing crisis and it isn’t going away anytime soon, said R. Brent Rawlings, Senior Vice President of the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, in testimony before the subcommittee.

“We’ve had people leave the workforce and we need to have every tool in our toolbox to try to get folks at the bedside as quickly as possible and this would allow that to happen,” he said.

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