Minnesota nurses' union criticizes order allowing out-of-state medical workers

A rack full of medical gear.
PPE and sanitizer sit on a cart at Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul on March 26, 2020.
Evan Frost | MPR News

A union representing nurses in Minnesota is criticizing a state order allowing out-of-state medical personnel to work in Minnesota during the coronavirus pandemic without additional license requirements.

Minnesota Nurses Association president Mary Turner said Gov. Tim Walz's executive order, signed over the weekend, is "extremely disappointing when health system after health system is furloughing and laying off Minnesota nurses who want to work."

Walz's order noted staffing shortages at long-term care facilities, as well as the potential for local hospitals and clinics to become overwhelmed by a surge in COVID-19 cases, like what's happening in Nobles County.

Under the order, out-of-state medical workers who come to help in Minnesota still need to be licensed in their home state but don't need to acquire a Minnesota license. They'll have to be working with an established provider in Minnesota.

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But some health systems in Minnesota have furloughed nurses, as they canceled elective procedures and other appointments ahead of the expected surge in COVID-19 cases.

Turner said a number of union members who are furloughed have been denied an opportunity to pick up work elsewhere — in a long-term care facility, for example — because of rules and restrictions. Some furloughed nurses remain on-call, and have to be ready to return to work within 24 hours.

"And if (nurses) aren't back, or they lose their furlough status, then they lose their benefits. So, (employers are) making it impossible for our nurses to help out in this situation," Turner said.

Turner also said there should have been some coordination in recent weeks to train non-ICU nurses to work in that setting as hospital beds fill up. She said she fears those roles during the crisis also will go to out-of-state medical staff.

MPR News reached out to several Minnesota health-care systems; they declined comment or did not respond.

The governor's staff also did not respond to requests for additional comment, but in his order Walz did call on providers to fully utilize Minnesota health-care workers, and "ensure that our health-care professionals are allowed flexibility in employment arrangements and labor agreements so that they can render aid where it is needed."