New bill mandates nurses earn BSNs

Nathan Littauer radiology technician Christina Steenburg readies an x-ray machine at the Perth-Broadalbin Primary and Specialty Care Center on Route 30 in Perth in April 2016. While techicians are in a different category, new state laws will require new nurses to obtain a bachelor's degree. (The Leader-Herald/Patricia Older)

Nathan Littauer radiology technician Christina Steenburg readies an x-ray machine at the Perth-Broadalbin Primary and Specialty Care Center on Route 30 in Perth in April 2016. While techicians are in a different category, new state laws will require new nurses to obtain a bachelor's degree. (The Leader-Herald/Patricia Older)

Anyone planning to study to become a registered nurse will be required to obtain a bachelor’s degree in nursing within 10 years of becoming a Registered Nurse, according to a bill signed into law this week by the governor.

Area hospital and nursing program administrators are praising the new law, which they say has codified a trend that has already been under way.

Exempted from the BSN requirement are current RNs and those already in nursing school. Nurses who are required to earn a BSN may apply for an extension beyond the 10 years due to hardships.

“Unofficially it’s been going on already,” said Bob Warner, director of the associate degree in nursing program at Fulton-Montgomery Community College in Johnstown.

He said many of his students are already planning to pursue a four-year nursing degree and Capital Region hospitals are offering pay incentives and tuition reimbursements to their nurses to further their education.

Warner said the new requirement is similar to the longtime expectation that state-certified school teachers, who must have a bachelor’s degree, continue on to a master’s degree during a specified time.

“It’s very exciting for the nursing profession,” said Stephanie Fishel, chief nursing officer and vice president of patient care services at Nathan Littauer Hospital in Gloversville. “How proud I am of our profession to raise our level of education.”

“I actually lobbied for this bill,” said her counterpart at St. Mary’s Healthcare, Michelle Walsh, chief nursing officer. “It’s a win-win for the hospital, the patients and the nurses.”

Walsh said the majority of her nurses have or are studying for a BSN, or intend to pursue a BSN. She said a BSN, master’s in nursing, nurse practitioner or a specialty certification makes nurses more competitive for jobs and wages in the workforce. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing cites studies indicating that better educated nurses improve patient outcomes in its fact sheet at www.aacn.nche.edu/media-relations/fact-sheets/nursing-workforce.

St. Mary’s offers tuition reimbursement and flexible hours to help nurses advance educationally, she said.

These types of accommodations by healthcare facilities help nurses who may have both work and family responsibilities, such as child care or an aging parent. Additionally, much BSN coursework can be completed online.

New York state has an aging, and therefore sicker, population and already has a shortage of nurses.

U.S. Census Bureau statistics show that the number of people ages 65 or older in the state increased from 13.5 percent as of April 1, 2010, to 15.4 percent as of July 1, 2016.

Similarly, the proportion of active RNs ages 55 and older increased in both rural and urban areas of the state, according to the Center for Health Workforce Studies at the State University of New York at Albany. Between 2005-2009 and 2010-2014, active RNs in rural areas between the ages of 18 and 54 increased by less than 1 percent, while those 55 and older increased by 26.5 percent. Active RNs in urban areas between the ages of 18 and 54 decreased by 1.2 percent while those 55 and older increased by almost a third–29.4 percent.

Between the two periods, the number of active RNs in the state increased by 5.6 percent (9,861) for a total of about 186,700 statewide, it stated.

Fishel said, “The impact [of the new law] is unknown,” and both Walsh and Warner said they don’t expect a negative impact. Walsh said that to meet the demand for RNs, more nurses with bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees will be needed.

The Health Resources and Services Administration, based on projections from population changes and the supply of RNs between 2012 to 2030, anticipates that New York will have a surplus of RNs in 2030. What happens in between remains to be seen.

Licensed practical nurses also perform many nursing functions, and Fulton-Montgomery Community College recently partnered with Maria College in Albany to offer an LPN program.

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