New cure sought for nurse practitioners’ rules

A new turf battle is already brewing for the 2013 session of the West Virginia Legislature, which doesn’t begin its work until next February.

The opposing arguments to change current requirements relating to the relationship between physicians and nurse practitioners were laid on the table by advocates of each side during last week’s round of legislative interim committee meetings in Charleston.

Presenting one side of the issue was Toni DiChiacchio, who was a certified public accountant for 15 years until she decided after the devastating Sept.11 attack that she wanted to do something more meaningful to help other people. So she went back to school to become a nurse practitioner.

DiChiacchio told members of a joint House-Senate legislative study group that the West Virginia Nurses Association would like to see state laws revised so that a nurse practitioner can work independently instead of under the supervision of a physician, which is the current arrangement.

DiChiacchio said individuals dismissed from hospital care should have a followup visit within a week but often can’t see a physician because their doctor’s schedule is full. She said nurse practitioners want to be autonomous, work without a collaborative agreement with physicians and be allowed more freedom to write prescriptions for medication.

One thing that could be done by the Legislature would be to immediately lift the scope of practice currently permitted for advanced practitioner registered nurses because “one third of the states and the nation’s capital have already done so,” according to DiChiacchio.

Dr. Hoyt Burdick, of Huntington, the new president of the West Virginia Medical Association, told the same legislative panel that the idea of changing state law so nurse practitioners could “work independently is a step in the wrong direction.”

With what could be as many as 130,000 more West Virginians now covered by Medicare and others covered by private insurance, Burdick told the committee that the need is for providers — both physicians and nurses — to work together and not independently of one another.

DiChiacchio told members of the Legislature’s Health subcommittee that she found a physician to collaborate with and then was stunned to learn that she was required to provide medical malpractice insurance. She said the physician “never sees my patients, doesn’t touch them, doesn’t look them in the eye; they never even know he exists — I pay twice the medical malpractice premium on him than I do on myself.”

Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, the legislative committee co-chairman and a surgeon in Charleston, said he hopes there is “a good agreement” on anticipated attempts at the 2013 regular legislative session to change current state law on this issue. At first blush, it would appear likely this turf battle won’t be resolved during the first legislative session that it is up for discussion.

Meanwhile, after several years of failed efforts, the 2012 Legislature finally passed a bill to create the Office of Minority Affairs at the State Capitol in memory of deceased Huntington attorney Herbert H. Henderson. Last week, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin named a McDowell County woman as its first director.

Henderson’s oldest daughter, Cheryl, was present for the ceremony at the State Capitol last week. She is also an attorney in her late father’s Huntington law office.

Carolyn Stuart, a native of McDowell County, was named by the governor as the first director of the new agency. House Speaker Richard Thompson, D-Wayne, gave credit to Delegate Clif Moore, D-McDowell, for his persistent efforts to create the new office that will bear Henderson’s name. The House of Delegates had approved the bill each of the last four years but it never received approval in the state Senate until this year’s regular legislative session.

A prominent Huntington attorney, Henderson was state president of the NAACP for more than 20 years. He died in October 2007 at the age of 78.

Finally, hopefully more of those registered to vote in West Virginia will go to the polls in November to choose the man who will be President of the United States for the next four years than showed up in 2008. According to a recent item in the national AARP Bulletin, only Hawaii and Utah had fewer registered voters cast ballots four years ago.

The percentage of eligible voters who cast ballots in the 2008 general election from West Virginia was 53.4 percent. Hawaii was lowest with 51.8 percent and Utah was next with 53.1 percent, according to the U. S. Census Bureau. On the other side, Minnesota had the best record with exactly three out of every four eligible voters — 75 percent — going to the polls in that election.

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