06Jun

Among the frontline workers of the COVID pandemic none have been more lauded than nurses. They’ve been applauded by thousands of grateful apartment dwellers, letters of thanks hang by the hundreds in break rooms and they’ve been treated to more pizzas than a victorious high school football team.

Less noticed by most of us, however, is how COVID-19 is changing the profession. Most notably for RNs and LPNs has been the relaxation of state licensing rules, enabling nurses in one state to more easily practice in another.

States that are part of the Enhanced Nursing Licensure Compact (which replaced the original compact in mid-2017) already allowed inter-state practice. But two of the largest states – California and New York – are not part of the compact. Neither are 13 other states and territories, according to Nurse.org.

Yet as the seriousness of the outbreak became apparent every state, territory and the District of Columbia declared an emergency so nurses licensed elsewhere could practice anywhere. Now, as the crisis is easing, non-compact states are rethinking their position about joining.

The pandemic’s most profound impact may be on nursing education. Most states permitted students to take on certain nursing duties without being licensed. Many alsowaived their hands-on clinical requirements allowing schools to substitute telework and simulations so their students would remain safe and still graduate.

In an interview with Health Leaders, Betty Nelson, dean of the School of Nursing & Health Sciences at Capella University, said COVID’s “most prominent challenge is our ability to provide learning experiences in clinical settings.”

She noted that while nursing programs nationwide have “maximized the use of high-fidelity simulations and virtual experiences,” Nelson says, they are not a complete replacement for human patient interaction. “The threshold can be raised higher, but hands-on patient care experience is necessary.”

With the risk of contagion still high and clinical opportunities in short supply even before the pandemic, nursing programs have yet to resolve the balance. Boards of nursing across the country have taken steps to help, allowing simulated clinical experience to account for more than the usual 50% of their training. Maryland, for example, said it would accept simulations “in place of students going to clinical sites.”

Most of these waivers and substitutions were announced early in the pandemic. As of the most recent update from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing most are still in effect and likely to remain so for the time being.

These changes, though temporary now, may lead to permanent changes in nursing standards, suggests Nelson.

“The strain on clinical site access set against the rising need by nursing schools for clinical site access, requires accreditors and regulators to evaluate standards and requirements relative to a safe balance between in-person patient care experiences and remote and simulated patient care experiences.”

Photo by Macau Photo Agency on Unsplash

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Benefits Are More Important Than Ever This Year

More than ever, employees are placing a high value on benefits this year, with a majority of workers feeling pressure to make the right choices when open enrollment begins in the next several weeks.

Due to the pandemic, the importance of benefits – voluntary as well as employer provided – has risen significantly in the minds of workers according to a survey sponsored by Prudential Finance. Three-quarters said the current environment has caused them to realize how important benefits are. And 75% agreed that, “Due to the pandemic, I feel that access to benefits through an employer is now more important than ever before.”

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So important have benefits become to employees that 77% now see them as a key part of their compensation, a big increase over the 67% who said that last year. By an even larger margin, 73% of workers said their benefits are a major reason for staying at their job. Last year, 59% of workers said that.

A majority – 52% — said they’d be willing to risk a job change if it offered better benefits.

Speaking to Human Resource Executive, Leston Welsh, head of business segments at Prudential Group Insurance, said, “The pandemic has driven home the idea that no one is immune to unexpected life events that can disrupt their income. The dangers of an ‘it won’t happen to me’ mentality are now very clear, and employees are placing greater value on benefits because they are more aware of how these benefits can help them during a life event, including paying for high out-of-pocket medical costs and hospital visits.”

The survey, in fact, showed that for 42% of the respondents benefits help to reduce their financial stress. These employees are most likely to have one or more of such benefits as accidental death & dismemberment (45%), a Health Savings Account (42%) and hospital indemnity insurance (32%).

Not surprisingly, medical benefits and paid sick leave are the most valued two benefits. These are typically part of a basic total compensation plan. But access to a retirement savings plan (38%) and flexible work arrangements (25%) ranked just behind.

Because of the importance benefits now have for so many workers, this year’s open enrollment season will be more stressful than usual. The survey found 51% of workers are feeling a lot more pressure to make the right choices.

As a consequence Welsh said, “Employees will need better information and more time to analyze how a different set of benefits may be better suited for their new normal.

“Given the uncertainty of the current environment, it’s more important than ever for employers to educate and encourage their employees to choose the solutions that will help safeguard their financial security — over the near and long term.”

Photo by Clayton Cardinalli on Unsplash

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