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Parson touts broadband and Fast Track program at Missouri Nurse Advocacy Day | News

JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Mike Parson spoke Wednesday at the Missouri Nurses Association’s annual Nurses Advocacy Day about legislation he hopes will help healthcare professionals.

In front of a crowd of about 200 nurses, Parson stressed the importance of laws like the Accelerated Workforce Incentive Grant and expanding rural broadband access.

Parson said the Fast Track Workforce Incentive Grant saw a 65% increase in enrollments in 2021, 50% of which were women in healthcare.

The Fast Track program is a grant initiative that provides financial assistance to individuals who entered the workforce without a bachelor’s degree and wish to return to school while continuing to work. The program requires participants to meet specific requirements, otherwise it is converted into a loan that must be repaid with interest. A Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Lincoln Hough of R-Greene County would repeal that part of the program.

The governor mentioned in his speech his desire for Missouri to improve broadband access in rural areas, adding that the state would invest $400 million in broadband.

“It’s one thing to have internet service, but you need to have reliable service and you need to have high speed right now,” Parson said. “If we want to be competitive in telemedicine, telehealth…we have to have that.”

Parson also referred to regulations he waived at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to give nurses greater freedom to make health care decisions. The regulations came back into effect after the COVID-19 state of emergency ended, which Heidi Lucas, state director of the Missouri Nurses Association, said was unfortunate.

“We had a large number of nurses who were able to provide more care during this time because the restrictions were gone,” Lucas said. “We hope that through the legislative process we will be able to remove them permanently.”

Lucas quoted House Bill 2434sponsored by Rep. Derek Grier, R-Chesterfield, as an example of legislation that the Missouri Nurses Association hopes will continue to give nurses more autonomy.

The bill, which passed a House committee on Wednesday, would allow advanced practice registered nurses to sign off on home health agency treatment plans; the law currently only authorizes a doctor or a podiatrist to do so. It would also eliminate requirements related to a nurse’s geographic proximity to a practicing physician and the time that a nurse and physician must be together at all times.

Lucas also addressed the agency nurse price hike legislation, which has been discussed among lawmakers this legislative session. While it can be expensive for small, rural hospitals to employ healthcare workers from nursing agencies, Lucas said capping nurses’ salaries isn’t a good solution — instead, she said expanding Medicaid and restrictions on recruiting agencies themselves would help.

“There are definitely some bad actors who charge exorbitant fees to have the nurses on, and the money doesn’t go directly to the nurses,” Lucas said. “The answer is not to cap the nurse’s salary. It could be finding a way to cap how much the agency earns on top of that. That would be another option that we would support.