Several health care-related bills were introduced earlier this month in the Legislature, but only non-monetary bills are expected to get much notice.
“We are definitely watching the appropriations budget to push for full funding for education,” said Betty Dickson, executive director of the Mississippi Nurses Association. “If we could all find one thing we could wrap our arms around, it would be insisting that the Legislature fully fund the education piece – K-12, community colleges and IHL. Right now, they’re all expecting cuts and are scrambling to find the funds.”
Dickson said education funding affects the health care profession — directly and indirectly – including the nursing profession.
“We need nursing candidates coming out of high school with a strong background in math and science,” she said. “We have 21 nursing programs in the state at the community and senior college level…and we need to adequately staff those programs.”
Introduced by Sen. Deborah Dawkins (D-Gulf Coast), The Mississippi Nursing Shortage Reduction Act of 2003 (Senate Bill 2298) would establish a professional shortage reduction program by establishing incentive scholarships, loan repayments and grants to increase enrollments in nursing education programs and increase nursing faculty. Under the program, registered nurses in postgraduate nursing degree programs would automatically qualify for resident tuition, and a matching fund program for private donations would be established.
Federal or private grants could be secured through matching fund and/or loan repayment programs. The bill is patterned after one passed recently by the Texas Legislature.
“It’s a terrific concept and something we need desperately, and I would love to see this bill passed, but the fact of the matter is there is no money available, and it would need to be funded to be effective,” said Dickson. “Parts of it, like private partnerships, are already being done. Many hospitals in Mississippi have established funding opportunities. At Southern (Miss), private donations have funded additional faculty. Getting private funding is a good concept, but the problem is finding matching funds from the state.”
The Office of Nursing Workforce (ONW) and the Mississippi Nurses Association developed a program to deal with nursing shortage concerns in the state, said Dickson.
“Enrollment in all schools of nursing in the state is up, and we’ve developed programs to help hospitals retain nurses,” she said. “Because young people typically see nursing as a 24/7 job with hard work and long hours, we’re developing a program to emphasize the positives. But our greatest problem is having enough nursing faculty to teach those we’re bringing in. The average age of the faculty in Mississippi is 50. About 25% are eligible for retirement. If any funding is available from the Legislature, that’s where it needs to go.”
An interesting bill (Senate Bill 2271) introduced by state Sen. Johnnie E. Walls Jr. (D-Greenville) requires medical care for elected officials and their families. Refusal to render necessary medical care to elected officials and their families will be a misdemeanor. Calls to the Mississippi State Medical Association for comment on this bill were not returned by press time.
Other legislation of interest to the medical community, filed by mid-January, includes:
• Senate Bill 2240, which would allow patients or their representatives to access medical records by written request;
• Senate Bill 2239, which would increase the minimum insurance requirements for ambulance vehicles operating in Mississippi;
• Senate Bill 2222, the Medical Practice Disclosure Act, which would allow the public access to specific licensed physicians reports;
• Senate Bill 2297 and House Bill 651, which would create the Mississippi Administrative Procedures Law;
• House Bill 646, which requires applicants for medical licensees to be fingerprinted;
• House Bill 609, which requires medical examiners to send a report to the narcotics bureau on any person who dies in Mississippi from a drug overdose, whether intentional or accidental;
• House Bill 583, which extends Open Meetings Law requirements to teleconferences and video meetings.
• House Bill 559, which creates medical review panels for medical malpractice claims;
• House Bill 165, which establishes a task force to evaluate the impact of medical errors on Mississippians, and to make recommendations to the Legislature;
• House Bill 125, which requires plaintiffs to pay the defendant’s cost of defense in frivolous lawsuits; and
• House Bill 70, which creates the Medicaid False Claims Act to establish violations and consequences.
“It’s too early to say what the most important pieces of legislation will be,” said Shawn Lea, spokesperson for the Mississippi Hospital Association. “We’re waiting to see what else is filed before making a comment.”
The Mississippi Nurses Association is following an additional bill: Senate Bill 2161, which would allow supporters of the Mississippi Nurses Foundation to purchase a motor vehicle license tag, with roughly $24 of the issuance fees to be placed in an education fund for Mississippi nurses. In the House, it is included in an omnibus bill.
“We’re hoping that, with 40,000 nurses in Mississippi, if we come up with a generic car tag that says something like ‘nurses care,’ the public could buy a tag and we could use that money to establish scholarships to help fill some of the gaps,” said Dickson.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org</a.