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Truce called in battle over nurse independence

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A crane above the dome of the state Capitol Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 8, 2019, as an extensive restoration project continues on the interior and exterior of the building. [THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES]
A crane above the dome of the state Capitol Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 8, 2019, as an extensive restoration project continues on the interior and exterior of the building. [THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES]

Doctors and nurses called a truce Thursday in their battle over expanding the authority of nurse anesthetists and hope to craft compromise legislation for lawmakers to consider next year.

Jenny Schmitt, president of the Oklahoma Association of Nurse Anesthetists, said she was pleased the Oklahoma State Medical Association "has finally agreed to sit down to honest negotiations with all interested parties."

"We are going to find solutions that all sides can agree on," Schmitt said.

"It’s not healthy for our professions to be at war. We work side by side every day in the operating room. We can work together side by side to move healthcare policy forward as well. I believe the OSMA’s promises are sincere and they want to partner with OANA for the betterment of our state.

"Oklahoma is suffering and has the some of the worst health outcomes in the nation. We need to get healthcare reform done over the next year. Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) with no supervision is part of that reform."

Oklahoma State Medical Association President Larry Bookman, M.D., confirmed Friday that there would be no more legislative activity on the issue this year.

"The Oklahoma State Medical Association looks forward to working with CRNAs, anesthesiologists, the Oklahoma Osteopathic Association, hospitals and other stakeholders later this year for an honest and constructive discussion on ways in which we can improve the health of all Oklahomans," Bookman said.

Earlier this week, a House committee approved legislation that would eliminate the requirement in state law that nurse anesthetists be supervised by doctors. Instead, the bill allowed hospitals to choose whether to require doctor supervision or opt for a collaboration model that gave qualified nurses the authority to administer anesthesia without a doctor on site.

A Senate committee approved similar legislation in February but Republican leaders blocked full Senate consideration amid a broadcast and direct mail advertising campaign launched by the state medical association against expanding nurses' autonomy.

Both sides have been lobbying heavily on the issue and have exchanged some harsh words.

Sen. Jason Smalley, R-Stroud, who authored the Senate and House versions of the legislation, said the House version had been improved by adding the requirement that nurse anesthetists assume legal responsibility and carry the same level of malpractice insurance as doctors.

It was unclear after committee passage this week whether the full House would take up the measure. The House author, Rep. Sean Roberts, R-Hominy, predicted this week that the issue might be laid over until the 2020 session.

According to Smalley, Oklahoma is one of only 10 states that require doctors to supervise nurse anesthetists.

Chris Casteel

Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. Casteel covered the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City. From 1990 through 2016, he was the... Read more ›

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