Staff Shortages, Board of Nursing Vacancies, Leadership Departures Hamper Board Mission; Credentials Delayed for 4,000 Nursing Professionals
TRENTON – Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Senator Bob Gordon today called on the Christie Administration to take immediate action to address a staffing crisis at the state entity charged with overseeing nursing in New Jersey, which has delayed needed credentials for thousands of medical professionals who are trained and ready to begin working in the field.
The senators also called on Governor Christie to immediately fill the six vacancies on the 13-member New Jersey Board of Nursing, which regulates the state’s nursing profession. They were joined at a Statehouse news conference by Dr. Avery Hart, member of NJ Board of Nursing; Ann Twomey, president of the Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE); Dr. Benjamin Evans, NJ State Nurses Association President; Virginia Tracey, former executive director of JNESO; Karen Barish of the Home Health Aides Association; and Elizabeth Mizerek, Mercer County Community College director of nursing education.
“The state nursing board is in crisis. It is understaffed and apparently underfunded, resulting in an unacceptable delay in licensing and certification for thousands of people who are trained and ready to begin working. Adding to the seriousness of this situation is a leadership crisis resulting from the impending departure of the board’s executive director and the failure to fill the deputy executive director’s position for the past year,” said Senator Weinberg (D-Bergen). “The inability of this vital state board to carry out its mission is affecting families and the strength of the state’s health care system. This situation must be remedied immediately.”
“This is yet another example of Governor Christie’s failure of leadership that we’ve seen on a host of issues affecting the health, welfare and safety of residents, from Superstorm Sandy recovery to the foreclosure crisis and delayed action on vital transportation infrastructure needs,” said Senator Gordon (D-Bergen and Passaic). “Now the dysfunction in state government is keeping thousands of people from entering the job market and leaving the state without needed nursing professionals. We are sounding the alarm because this needs to be addressed now.”
Dr. Hart, a public member of the Board of Nursing, appealed for legislative assistance in a letter last week. “Our board is in crisis,” she wrote. “And since it is the board’s job to protect the public, the dire situation creates increased risk for all NJ residents. We have appealed over and over to the [Division] of Consumer Affairs, to no avail.”
Dr. Hart included a letter by Dr. Patricia Murphy, President of the Board of Nursing, asserting that “a major factor” in the resignation of Executive Director Dorothy Smith Carolina “was the chronic lack of staff, now rising to a level that threatens the Board’s responsibility to protect the citizens of New Jersey.”
More than 4,000 professionals are currently awaiting their nursing license or certification – 2,838 new graduates and graduate nurses from foreign countries and 1,278 licensees from other states seeking New Jersey licenses, according to board officials. Some of the applicants have been waiting for months for action, many of them with job offers.
The senators questioned how the Department of Law and Public Safety could insist that Board of Nursing staffing levels were adequate when such a backlog exists. In a written response to the Assembly Budget Committee during the budget process, the department assured legislators that current staffing levels were sufficient for the board to meet its mission.
“If additional funding is needed, the Administration needs to say so,” Senator Weinberg said. “It is hard to see how the board can be understaffed, however, when the state collects $13 million a year in licensing fees.”
Senator Gordon noted that Democrats added $250,000 to the budget this year to address similar backlogs in licensing applications for home health aides.
Adding to the staff shortages, the nursing board is facing an imminent absence of executive leadership, with Executive Director Carolina’s resignation effective August 11, 2017, and the Deputy Executive Director position still vacant. Additionally, six of the 13 board positions remain unfilled by the governor, which compromises basic board functions including the ability to obtain a quorum required for meetings.
Senators Gordon and Weinberg announced they would schedule a future Senate Legislative Oversight Committee meeting to investigate the causes of the staffing shortage and the progress made in addressing the licensing backlogs.
The New Jersey Board of Nursing protects the public by ensuring that nurses and certified homemaker-home health aides meet the requisite educational requirements for licensure or certification; investigating and prosecuting nurses and certified homemaker-home health aides who do not perform their duties in compliance with State laws; and adopting rules, regulations and policies governing the practice of nursing and certified homemaker-home health aides.
It licenses registered nurses and practical nurses, and certifies advanced practice nurses, sexual assault forensic nurses, and certified homemaker-home health aides. The board oversees: 143,500 registered nurses (RNs), licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and advanced practice nurses (APNs); 80,000 Certified Home Health Aides; and all educational programs for the above professionals and paraprofessionals. In addition, it acts on approximately 250 disciplinary cases each month.