The COVID-19 pandemic has left few lives untouched. As healthcare facilities across the country continue to cope with the pandemic, nurse anesthetists like me remain on the front lines, providing care for critically ill patients.
The nearly 60,000 certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) in the United States possess unique skills and expertise that enable us to step forward in a way few others can. We have been leading the way in advanced airway and ventilation management — which have been essential in addressing the deadliest part of the unforgiving virus.
The federal government and several governors across the country have made the important decision to remove barriers to CRNA practice during this crisis, reinforcing the critical needs for the skills we bring to bear in combating the pandemic. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has temporarily lifted physician supervision requirements for CRNAs, encouraging health care systems to enable CRNAs to practice to the fullest extent of their education and training — a move that has increased access to care.
CRNAs understand that the U.S. healthcare system cannot succeed unless all people can live their healthiest lives. We work and live at the intersection of patient care, education and advocacy. Leveraging these attributes and enabling CRNAs to practice to the fullest extent of our education and licensure will contribute to building healthcare systems that will work for everyone.
CRNAs are highly educated, highly trained professionals. We complete eight to 10 years of healthcare and anesthesia education and more than 12,000 hours of clinical training prior to graduating with an advanced degree as an expert in the field of anesthesiology. CRNAs serve their country as full-practice, independent anesthesia providers in every branch of the military, on the front lines in combat-support hospitals and as the sole anesthesia providers on forward surgical teams.
The pivotal role CRNAs play in people’s lives and in providing access to the highest-quality care has become overwhelmingly clear. That is why it’s important that the government’s emergency steps should not be temporary. As our country strives to recover from the pandemic, it is vital that the federal government’s rulemaking permanently removes unnecessary and costly physician supervision requirements that do not improve patient outcomes.
It is a commonsense approach to improving access to the highest-quality care while also driving down costs as our delivery system struggles with limited resources and growing demand for services.
According to a January 2021 CMS report, CRNAs were among the top 20 specialties that served the most Medicare- and Medicaid-insured individuals in non-telehealth care between March 2020 and June 2020 — the height of the COVID-19 public health emergency. Many groups from all sides of the political and ideological spectrum have coalesced in support of this commonsense policy. These essential reforms will help increase access to care, curb costs, and improve the delivery of health care.
CRNAs have answered the call to help keep patients healthy and safe during this unprecedented time. If we are good enough to serve on the frontlines of a battlefield and in the face of a global pandemic, we are good enough to do so all of the time. Read more about CRNAs at Minnesota Association of Nurse Anesthetists Home (www.mnana.org).
Andrea Roberts is a CRNA at Sanford Luverne Medical Center in Luverne, Minn., and president of the Minnesota Association of Nurse Anesthetists.