BOSTON — State officials have eased hiring requirements for out-of-state nurses and other healthcare workers as hospitals battle staff shortages amid a new surge in COVID-19 infections.
An order by interim Public Health Commissioner Margret Cooke allows out-out-state registered nurses, practical nurses, advanced practice registered nurses, physician assistants, respiratory therapists, perfusionists and emergency medical technicians to bypass the normal certification process to work in the state.
Under the temporary rules, those healthcare workers would be granted a state license, valid until Dec. 31, as long as they are licensed to practice in another state and their credentials are "in good standing" with no disciplinary actions against them.
Normally, traveling nurses are required to go through the state Board of Nurse Registration and other processes to get temporary licenses.
The order also allows nurses and specialized healthcare workers who have been licensed in Massachusetts within the past 10 years to get a temporary license.
"A board or licensing authority shall notify the commissioner when it becomes aware of any individual instance where, due to special concerns, application of this order may be contrary to the public interest," the DPH order states.
"The commissioner shall in her sole discretion determine whether to apply or suspend the terms of this order in any such individual instance," it adds.
The new rules are similar to loosened hiring regulations set by Gov. Charlie Baker last year in response to the pandemic and a shortage of healthcare workers.
Those rules were extended until the end of the year, but only included nurses and other healthcare workers already temporarily licensed in the state.
When Massachusetts was battling the first wave of coronavirus earlier last year, nurses flocked to the state from across the country to help. But as the country faces a surge of infections among the unvaccinated, fueled by a highly contagious strain of the virus, that pool of health care workers is drying up.
Steve Walsh, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association, said the licensing flexibility is needed as hospitals battle a surge in new infections, along with patients seeking care for ailments they deferred during the pandemic.
He said easing the requirements will "grow the pool of qualified nurses that can care for the influx of patients entering their facilities."
"While the Massachusetts healthcare system is facing a multitude of new challenges, there’s no doubt that staffing shortages are at the top of the list," he said. "Providers across the state are struggling to recruit and retain workers – from clinicians to housekeeping staff and administrative support. Nurses and behavioral health professionals are in especially high demand."
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.