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GREAT HEALTH DIVIDE: Bill being debated in Louisiana has medical professionals divided

House Bill 495 is aimed to allow nurse practitioners to practice medicine independently of doctors in Louisiana.
Published: Oct. 4, 2021 at 3:26 PM CDT
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - A bill being debated in Louisiana would allow nurse practitioners to have full practice authority, meaning they wouldn’t have to work with a doctor to treat patients.

The bill, which has been shot down multiple times by lawmakers, has many medical professionals divided.

It’s hotly contested legislation. House Bill 495 is aimed to allow nurse practitioners to practice medicine independently of doctors in Louisiana.

“For us to practice, we have to have a physician in the same specialty that we’re practicing and sign, essentially, a piece of paper that says they’ll collaborate with us if needed,” said Jessica Barton, J.I. Barron Elementary Family Nurse Practitioner with Trinity Community Health Centers of Louisiana.

The current law makes it illegal for nurse practitioners to see patients without a designated collaborator.

Medical professionals are divided when it comes to the bill, with some doctors saying patient safety is at stake, but many nurse practitioners claim they already practice relatively independently.

Region Six Office of Public Health Director Dr. David Holcombe says the relationship between doctors and nurse practitioners can vary greatly.

“You can see everything from no control whatsoever, no oversight, to very rather strict oversight through the review of charts and the review of discussions and so forth,” said Dr. Holcombe.

Barton says Trinity Community Health Centers use two doctors, one in Monroe and one in Ruston.

“We don’t routinely see them we don’t hear from them. We don’t talk to them on a daily basis,” said Barton.

Barton, who works at J.I. Barron Elementary, shared she doesn’t often collaborate with Trinity’s doctors, but will often reach out to pediatricians in Cenla who know her students well.

“I’ll reach out to them and say hey, I saw one of your kiddos today, this is what we saw, this is what we did, what do you think, do you want us to do anything else, do you want us to schedule an appointment for them to come and see you?” said Barton.

She believes the bill would be a good thing for the state because it would allow more nurse practitioners to work in underserved areas of our region.

“Nurse practitioners want to serve the underserved and more rural areas where a lot of times physicians don’t want to go. The access provides a big service to people that need it,” said Barton.

This includes Grant Parish, which currently doesn’t have any local medical doctors.

“The supply has been filled in rural areas and in many clinics by nurse practitioners who are very competent and well trained. However, they’re not MD’s,” said Dr. Holcombe.

An emergency order was put in place early in the pandemic that allowed nurse practitioners to practice without having a doctor available on-site or by phone, and House Bill 495 would make that the norm.

The bill passed in the House in May in a 60 to 41 vote, but was never taken up by the Senate, effectively killing the bill this past legislative session.

Nurse practitioners are vowing to bring the bill up next legislative session. Bills like this one have already passed in a number of other states. But whether the law would be changed here in Louisiana is still up in the air.

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