Senate OKs bill continuing exemptions for out-of-state health care workers

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Health care workers with out-of-state licenses would be allowed to work in Michigan in times of public health emergencies under legislation approved unanimously by the Michigan Senate Tuesday. 

The exception to Michigan's licensure laws would be triggered "during an epidemic-related staffing shortage" if the state health department "determined that control of an epidemic was necessary to protect the public health," according to a Senate analysis of the bill. Health care institutions would not qualify if the sole reason for their shortage was a collective bargaining issue.

The policy, if approved by the House and signed into law, would replace an exemption that currently allows for out-of-state licensees to practice in Michigan.

Health care workers remove their protective clothing at the end of their shift at a drive-thru coronavirus testing site at 1200 N. Telegraph, by appointment, in Pontiac, Michigan on April 16, 2020.

The state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs suspended the Michigan licensure requirements in March 2020 but that suspension is set to expire in January, creating a need for more permanent exemptions, said Adam Carlson, senior vice president for advocacy at the Michigan Health and Hospital Association. 

Carlson told lawmakers in committee last week that the need for the exemption is still critical amid record COVID-19 hospitalization numbers and persistent vacancies in the health care industry. Across the state, there are more than 20,600 open health care positions and an average vacancy rate of 14.3%, he said. 

"Each month more health care workers exit the workforce than what hospitals are able to replace," Carlson said. 

Several hospitals voiced support for the bill when it passed out of committee last week.

Ascension Northern Ministries Regional President Dr. Stephanie Duggan told lawmakers that Ascension Michigan has utilized about 1,670 licensed professionals from other states under the exemption since March 2020. Trinity Health regional chief nursing officer Doug Dascenzo said Trinity Health Michigan currently has about 54 out-of-state licensees providing care in its state footprint, the vast majority of which are nurses. 

"We were experiencing, along with the healthcare industry as a whole, significant workforce challenges before this pandemic," Dascenzo said. "However, these challenges have been exacerbated over the past 20 months.”