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Amid health workforce strain, N.H. nursing board streamlines licensing process

Nurse comforting patient in hospital

The New Hampshire Board of Nursing has passed an emergency rule aimed at streamlining a portion of the licensing process for certain health care workers. It’s one of several steps meant to address the workforce shortage hospitals and nursing homes are facing as the COVID-19 pandemic puts unprecedented strain on the state’s health infrastructure.

With New Hampshire currently seeing the country’s highest rate of COVID-19 cases, facilities are scrambling to hire enough nurses. In the past, new nurses first needed an FBI background and fingerprint check, which can take several weeks to complete.

Lindsay Courtney, the executive director of the Office of Professional Licensure and Certification, said under an emergency rule passed by the Board of Nursing, applicants can now begin working once they have their FBI fingerprint appointment simply scheduled.

“We’re going to do what we can in order to speed up the process, to get people through the door, make sure that they are qualified,” Courtney said. “But I don’t think licensing is going to solve the work force problem.”

According to Courtney, there are 766 nursing applications pending at her office, all incomplete due to missing paperwork or delays in obtaining the FBI background check. Courtney estimates that 115 licenses will now be granted due to the rule change, though she noted that an unknown number of those applicants are likely already working in the state under temporary approvals.

To help meet the demand for more nursing professionals, the state of New Hampshire will look to spend approximately $6 million to bring in short-term contract nurses and nursing assistants from out of state. Those contracts, which haven’t yet been signed, will bring in so-called ‘strike teams’ to bolster staff at nursing homes that have been forced to close wings of their facilities down due to a shortage of workers.