Now, more than ever, West Virginia residents recognize and appreciate access to health care where they live. During the past year, in the midst of the persistent COVID-19 pandemic, traveling across the state for care was not only an inconvenience, but it also presented potential health consequences to you and your family.
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Jim Justice issued an executive order that allowed Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists like me and the nearly 800 other active West Virginia CRNAs to practice to the full extent of their education, training and certification. The governor recognized the critical-care skills and airway and ventilatory support CRNAs bring in combating this crisis, and it helped increase the capacity of our delivery system, meeting the growing health care demand.
House Bill 2674 would make that action permanent.
While CRNAs are honored to serve at the forefront in our usual role, delivering anesthesia in operating rooms, the pandemic also means we are caring for critically ill patients in emergency rooms and intensive care units across our state and now helping to distribute COVID-19 vaccines.
Although West Virginia has one of the oldest populations of any state in the country, trends are showing its birth rate will grow higher than the country as a whole in 2030. These two factors make access to surgical, obstetrical and emergency services vital, especially in rural areas.
Anesthesia services are provided solely by CRNAs in West Virginia’s Critical Access Hospitals offering surgical services, and in 90% of our rural hospitals. We comprise 68% of the state’s anesthesia care providers.
CRNAs are anesthesia professionals who, prior to admission into an anesthesia program, have obtained a bachelor of science in nursing degree, and have a minimum one-year of intensive care experience, with an average of three years experience.
Nurse anesthesia programs, including those offered at West Virginia University and Marshall University, are three-year master’s or doctoral degrees centered on advanced airway management, vascular access, hemodynamics, pharmacology and physiology related to the field of anesthesiology.
There are 41 U.S. states that do not require physician supervision of CRNAs in their nursing laws and rules. Leading health policy journals have demonstrated CRNAs’ safety record and found no “statistical difference in safety to any other anesthesia care model.” All while reducing anesthesia delivery costs by 25%.
West Virginia is, hopefully, on the path of recovery from COVID-19, but it is important to maintain this commonsense approach to improved access to and reduced cost of health care. Increased demand, limited resources, and the rural nature of our state dictate that a system capable of meeting the needs of all be maintained.
Now is the time to make this change permanent, ensuring continued access to quality care for all West Virginia residents. Please help West Virginia join 41 other states in ensuring safe, affordable anesthesia care in your district by supporting HB 2674 in the West Virginia Legislature. Learn more at westvirginia.crnasafe.com
Preston Woodburn-Camp is a CRNA and serves on the board or directors for the West Virginia Association of Nurse Anesthetists.