Sen. Mary Torres
Sen. Mary Camacho Torres has introduced a bill appropriating $50,000 from her office's unexpended funds for a wage study of all positions covered under the government of Guam's nurse pay plan.
Bill 415-35 would transfer the unused funds to the Department of Administration for the proposed wage study that seeks to address the issue of “competitive” pay relative to national averages within the United States.
While Public Law 35-36 had authorized the expenditure of funds for a government-wide study, which included nursing positions, no appropriation was actually made to carry out this provision, according to a press release from Torres' office.
Torres also has an additional $75,000 set aside to fund a separate feasibility study for a Multi-Purpose Community Stadium Complex, which is to be transferred to the Guam Economic Development Authority upon the empanelment of the study’s commission.
The new bill was proposed following Wednesday's public hearing on Bill 239-35 that would add Guam to the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC)—allowing nurses in other NLC states to practice on Guam without having to obtain additional licenses. Torres authored the bill with Speaker Tina Muna Barnes.
“Yesterday’s public hearing underscored previous discussions with the community to bolster local nurse retention,” Torres said. “By providing direct funding for this wage study, Bill 415 works in tandem with the recruitment efforts of Bill 239.”
Bill 239-35, which was introduced in November last year, was endorsed by representatives from the Guam Memorial Hospital, Guam Regional Medical City, Guam Board of Nurse Examiners, Guam Department of Public Health, and the Guam Nurses Association during the public hearing.
“We are here today to respectfully request support for the passage of Bill 239-35. Here on Guam, we are facing a nursing shortage that affects both GMHA and GRMC on a daily basis,” said GRMC Chief Nursing Officer Jennifer Cruz. “This proposed bill will provide a solution which will allow Guam to join the thirty-four (34) states that have already passed Nurse Licensure Compact laws.”
In addition to multistate licensure, the NLC would enable telehealth nursing services, educational opportunities, as well as for the immediate movement of nurses in the event of a natural disaster or other emergency, without the need to wait for a declaration of emergency.
While Gov. Leon Guerrero temporarily waived current licensing requirements at the beginning of this pandemic, Guam’s membership to the NLC would have streamlined the burdensome process nurses arriving on Guam are now facing and may have allowed them to get from airplane to hospital much faster.
Under the NLC, members have access to a shared database containing the licensure, work, and disciplinary history of each compact nurse. This includes ongoing investigations which are not included in current databases utilized by the Guam Board.
“This public hearing was a long-awaited journey,” said Zennia Pecina, HPLO administrator. “Adoption of the NLC will not only invite nurses to our island, but will open the gates for specialized nurses to seek employment. Thank the Lord for the greatness of our University of Guam’s School of Nursing that produces nurses consistently for our island. But that is not enough to alleviate the shortage of experienced and specialized nurses.”
While efforts to retain Guam’s local nurses remains paramount, all leaders of the nursing community voiced the importance of bringing in more qualified hands to the fight against the pandemic.
“We are faced with a greater nursing shortage due to our remoteness,” testified Lynette Fires, a nurse who started a petition which currently has over 3,6000 signatures in support of the Compact. “I can assure you that the cost of licensure is a very minute cost of moving. And if someone was already considering moving to the states, it’s not going to be because of the ease of licensure in another state.”
"I have always emphasized the need to work together for the betterment of our people,” said Muña Barnes. “Under the Compact, there will be cooperation and sharing of information regarding licensure, regulations, investigations, and adverse action between these states.”
“While I am committed to working with the UOG Nursing division to expand our local nurse force here— the unfortunate reality is that we do not have enough nurses to adequately care for our island,” Torres said.
“To our health care professionals who haven’t had one day off since this pandemic, we can never thank you enough for your endless dedication to our People. It is my sincere hope that this bill helps relieve the workload you for too long have had to bear.”