Dunleavy adds nursing, telehealth issues to Legislature’s agenda

Gov. Mike Dunleavy discusses the state of the coronavirus pandemic during a news conference at the Atwood Building in Anchorage on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021. (Matthew Faubion / Alaska Public Media)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Thursday expanded the Legislature’s special session agenda to include bills dealing with nursing and telehealth amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in the state.

The issues are added to an agenda that also includes the Permanent Fund dividend.

The special session, which began Aug. 16, can run up to 30 days, or until Sept. 14.

One bill Dunleavy wants lawmakers to consider would expand the use of telehealth and provide tools to expand the health care workforce and capacity. The bill hadn’t been introduced by early Thursday afternoon.

Another bill calls for allowing Alaska to participate in a nurse licensure compact. The state commerce department has said the compact would allow registered and practical nurses in any of the other participating states to practice in Alaska “without having to go through a time-consuming, redundant licensing process.”

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The Alaska Nurses Association, in written testimony on the bill earlier this year, opposed the measure, writing in part that there was “no evidence to suggest” joining the compact would help with staffing, with nursing shortages nationwide.

The letter also raised concerns about how nurses from other states would be monitored.

State health officials say Alaska is seeing widespread transmission of COVID-19, driven by the highly contagious delta variant. Health care providers have raised concerns about staff availability and fatigue.

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Dunleavy didn’t issue a new disaster declaration, which the state hospital association called for this week. Some hospitals are at or near their capacity due to limited staffing levels. 

Hospitals leaders have said a disaster declaration would allow more aggressive use of telehealth. They’ve also called for the state to streamline state background checks and licensing for hospital staff. 

Alaska Public Media’s and KTOO’s Andrew Kitchenman contributed to this report.

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