STATE HOUSE – Rep. David Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick), a registered nurse, has seen what happens when health care providers are short-staffed.
“You want to provide the care your patients deserve,” Representative Bennett said, “but sometimes you just can’t if you don’t have the people.”
Surgery First Assist Licensing
Dr. Franklin Mirrer, an orthopedic surgeon, knows this struggle first-hand. As one of the state’s last remaining independent orthopedic surgeons, Mirrer has struggled to find staff to work as a first assist with surgeries.
“Trying to do a surgery without a first assist is very difficult. Some surgeries I just won’t do without a first assistant and I would hate to not offer those surgeries anymore to my patients,” he said.
Under current state law, only a registered nurse or a physician’s assistant can work as a first assist. But with a national health care worker shortage, Mirrer was struggling to find someone. Other states, including Massachusetts, allow surgical techs who obtain additional training as a certified surgical first assistant to work independently with physicians as first assists. Rhode Island does not recognize this licensure. Mirrer has trained a surgical tech with that nationally recognized first assist licensure, but the tech is not legally allowed to fulfill this role in Rhode Island.
Bennett hopes to change this with new legislation (2023 H-5014) that would create a state license for surgical assistant first assists. That, advocates say, would help surgeons throughout the state struggling with short staffing.
“This is a no-brainer,” Bennett said. “We have people who are trained to do the work and are certified to do the work. The state should let them do it.”
Dr. Mirrer, who currently works out of Roger Williams Medical Center, said he will likely have to move his practice to Massachusetts if something doesn’t change. “I love serving the people of Rhode Island, but I can’t keep this up,” he said.
Physical Therapy Co-pays Cost Control
Bennett is also sponsoring legislation that would limit physical therapy co-pays. The bill (2023 H-5012) prohibits insurance plans from charging higher copays for physical therapy than they charge for other services. This, advocates hope, will encourage patients to finish their physical therapy and avoid re-injury, which slows recovery and costs more in the long run.
“Physical therapy copays can be $50, $75, $100,” Representative Bennett said. “I’ve seen patients who need physical therapy stop going because they can’t afford it. Then they re-injure and are right back where they started, costing everyone time and resources. This bill will help.”
“This is the value of having a registered nurse at the State House,” Mirrer said. “Representative Bennett understands the health care system and the struggles we face first hand. I’m grateful for his advocacy.”
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