This is National Nurses Week in Arkansas, and today I’d like to talk about how the pandemic has highlighted the value of our nurses and about the laws the General Assembly passed this year that allow nurses to offer more services.

Over the past year, nurses have risked their health to care for COVID patients in hospitals, private homes, nursing homes, and prisons and jails.

Susie Marks, executive director of the Arkansas Nurses Association, says that many nurses, especially bedside nurses, have worked in settings they never thought they’d work in.

Some Arkansas nurses served in COVID hot spots in New York, Texas, and Louisiana. Nurses don’t run from danger, Ms. Marks said, they run towards it. Those who worked in other places returned to Arkansas with innovative solutions for patient care and to minimize risk to health care workers.

Registered nurses are the largest health care profession in the United States, and 60,000 of them work in Arkansas. The theme for this year’s National Nurses Week is “You Make a Difference,” a nod to the unparalleled care and service they have provided during the pandemic.

Professional nursing is an indispensable link in the care of hospitalized patients, and the demand for registered nurses is growing as Baby Boomers age, and as the quality of health care and medicine helps Americans live longer than ever.

The cost-effective safe and high-quality health care services that registered nurses provide will play an ever-more important role in our health care delivery system.

The General Assembly passed several laws this year that expand the services that nurses can offer. Act 569 allows Advance Practice Registered Nurses to serve as a primary care provider in the Medicaid Program without a physician agreement. This allows people who live in rural areas to see an advanced practice registered nurse for certain care and prescriptions rather than drive to a city.

Act 412 creates the Full Independent Practice Credentialing Committee, which can grant full practice authority to certified nurse practitioners.

Act 449 allows a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist to work in consultation with licensed physicians, dentists, and others who are licensed to order anesthesia.

And Act 607 grants full practice authority to Certified Nurse Midwives, which allows them to evaluate patients, diagnose medical conditions, and order diagnostic tests, and initiate and manage treatment and care plans.

These new laws expand access to medical care and allow nurses to work to their education level.

As we add nursing programs at the high school and community college level, and increase the ability of nurses to provide services, Arkansas is poised to increase the number of nurses. As we have seen during the pandemic, we can’t live without them. Nurses make all the difference. Thank you, nurses, for choosing this profession.