Vital Signs
Editor's Note: In Walker's column this month, he discusses HB-1607 and notes the bill, which would create medication aides in skilled nursing facilities, has its detractors. Among them are the members of the Tennessee Nurses Association. For more on this issue, refer to our May 2009 issue online to read what TNA President Laura Beth Brown said are the association's chief concerns with this legislation. The article, TNA Addresses Policy & Practice Issues is located at http://nashville.medicalnewsinc.com/news.php?viewStory=2124
 
A bill in play at the State Capitol is hoping to change the way care, specifically medication, is administered in nursing homes.
 
HB-1607 seeks to create a new class of care provider known as a 'medication aide.' The aides, who will be certified and overseen by the Board of Nursing, will be allowed to administer certain medications to patients in nursing homes, ostensibly taking some of the pressure off overextended nursing staffs.
 
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Deborah Maggart, said her proposal is about "getting the nurse out from behind the med cart, giving them more time for direct care." Doing this, she hopes, will lead to a reduction in errors as medication aides take the onus of delivering standard medications, giving the nurses more time to focus on other patient issues.
 
With the nation's largest generation heading steadily towards its autumn years, and with the ranks of nurses continuing to dwindle, no one in the industry is disagreeing that some kind of change must be made. But detractors claim the bill will do more harm than good.
 
"This is a safety issue," according to opponent Rep. Joanne Favors. The Chattanooga representative cites the mind-boggling number of deaths each year from medication errors and thinks that the amount of training the aides will receive is simply insufficient.
 
One issue also at play here is the fact that the vast majority of those errors are committed by nurses, who have undergone far more training.
 
Clearly there's a problem here. There will soon be more elderly people than we'll be able to shake a stick at, and we're going to have to come up with a way to care for them. Maggart sees her bill as a step in that direction. Favors would likely advocate for measures to increase the nursing ranks.
 
Either way, nurses are stretched thin, and we need to do something.
 
 
Walker Duncan is a reporter at NashvillePost.com, a sister publication of Nashville Medical News. You can reach him at walker.duncan@nashvillepost.com.