Senators on Monday passed Bill 13-36, which would adopt the Nurse Licensure Compact to allow qualified nurses to come to Guam without the need to wait for a local license or emergency declaration.
“If NLC were in place prior to the pandemic, it would have eased the mobility of nurses to work on Guam,” said Christine Tuquero, deputy assistant administrator of Nursing Services at the Guam Memorial Hospital, said during the bill’s deliberations.
“We had to recruit nurses from a travel agency because we did not have enough nurses locally, in our hospital response to the pandemic. If NLC were in place at the time, I think it would’ve been a much smoother process to bring the nurses over,” she added.
Sen. Mary Torres, the bill's author, rebuked claims by the bill's opponents, who argued that Guam would suffer massive out-migration to other Compact states due to the island’s low nurse salaries.
“To date, there has been no evidence from any of the 34 member states of a mass exodus of nurses following adoption of the Compact,” Torres said. “Instead, states with similar nurse salary structures witnessed an increase in the number of active licenses after joining the NLC.”
Under the bill, local nurses cannot obtain a compact license until the Guam Board of Nurse Examiners is able to issue one—a process which can take up to a year or more.
This would eliminate the risk of an immediate outflow while allowing nurses in other NLC states to practice here immediately.
“Joining the NLC doesn’t absolve us of our responsibility to increase nurse salaries—and it shouldn’t,” Torres said. “But lawmakers also have a duty to lead by facts, instead of fear. Now, more than ever, the arguments for improving access to care and patient safety compel us to adopt this policy. I thank my colleagues for standing on the side of truth, and ask the Governor to grant our nurses their earnest request.”
Sen. Telo Taitague voted “no” on Bill 13, saying it would not solve Guam's nursing shortage.
“Guam nurses can pursue better opportunities elsewhere without Bill 13. At least 20 nurses left GMH during the height of Covid -19 last year – without Bill 13. The bill looks harmless but it may have unintended consequences that can hurt our community," Taitague said.
"Bill 13 does not bring nurses to Guam – it is not a solution to our nursing shortage and it’ll make the situation worse than it already is. I did not support the bill because it does nothing to address the perennial nursing shortage and unsafe workplace conditions at our only public hospital,” she added.
Citing the Guam Federation of Teachers' testimony, Taitague said the legislature must first fix issues in-house before moving forward with Bill 13.
"In testimony submitted to senators, GFT wrote that '30 percent pay increases and cheaper living areas will help every nurse working on Guam, both public and private. Contrary to one senator’s opinion that money is not everything, it is when you live in an area with such a high cost of living.”
A related bill, which proposes a 15-percent salary increase for nurses, is scheduled for a public hearing on Wednesday.
Torres said her Bill 61-36 serves as an interim measure until the nurse wage study mandated by Public Law 35-125 is completed.
Under that law, also authored by Torres, the Department of Administration must update the compensation of all positions covered under the Nurse Pay Plan.
The plan covers 38 different positions, including Licensed Practical Nurses, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists, Community Health and Nursing Services, hospital administrators and supervisors, and school health counselors.
Torres noted that the nurses salaries are "something we fund first, regardless of cost. Approving this increase before we deliberate on a fiscal year budget ensures we incorporate that cost—proving our nurses are the priority we say they are.”
Bill 61-36 is co-authored by Vice Speaker Tina Muña Barnes and Sen. Amanda L. Shelton.
“My family taught me Inafa’Maolek: when my community is in need, we step up. Our nurses did just that throughout COVID-19, this is one way to do right by them and provide what they rightfully deserve,” Muña Barnes said.
“As we continue to fight against this invisible virus, there’s no better time to affirm our responsibility to our nurses on the front lines who have devoted their lives to keep us safe,” Shelton said.