Virginia bill would elevate nurse practitioner profession

Nurse practitioners could have more freedom to practice if a new bill in Virginia becomes law. (WCYB)

A bill awaiting the governor's approval could improve access to health care for southwest Virginia residents.

The bill approved by the Virginia General Assembly would elevate the profession of nurse practitioners. Right now, they work under a collaborative practice agreement with a physician. the new law would ease that restriction after five years of experience.

"This will allow for a doctor to sign off on a nurse practitioner who has worked under them who can go out into the field and practice outside the office and offer more health care to our constituents who need it," Senator Bill Carrico. He said this would be a benefit for rural areas of the state.

"We have a shortage of doctors. Nurse practitioners have been offering a service in southwest Virginia for a long time," Carrico said.

The Virginia Council of Nurse Practitioners says 16 percent of Virginia residents are in areas lacking primary care. No one may know that better than the nurse practitioners with the Health Wagon, a non-profit mobile medical clinic who served approximately 14,000 uninsured and underinsured patients last year alone.

"What we're nervous about at the Health Wagon is our supervising physician is now almost 80 years old. If he was to retire or resign, our whole clinic would cease to function," family nurse practitioner Paula Hill said.

It also comes down to cost because right now Dr. Joe Smiddy is offering his services as a physician free as a volunteer.

"To find a physician that would do this totally free of charge, like he does because we're a free clinic, we're very money constrained. It would be very difficult," Hill said.

The bill is now on Governor Ralph Northam's desk. The deadline for the governor's action is April 9.

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