“I think that’s ridiculous that if my help is good enough today, down the road it wouldn’t be.”
Seth Touchet’s wife is pregnant with the couple’s second child, due at the end of May. They live in Northeast Louisiana, a safe distance from the COVID-19 outbreak in New Orleans. But that didn’t stop Touchet from signing up to fly to New York City and serve as a nurse in the center of the pandemic. A volunteer firefighter, then a paramedic, now a nurse, Touchet is used to running to the fire.
“I always enjoyed public safety,” he said in a phone call.
During his decade as a paramedic, Touchet attended a “good number” of natural disasters on behalf of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
“There’s a lot of similarities to the way that we’re working up here as previous disasters I’ve been on,” he said. “This isn’t just a regular nursing travel assignment in New York. It’s a lot more like a disaster.”
Touchet, 33, went through Krucial Staffing to connect with a New York City hospital where he could serve. The process of qualifying was easy. “It took five minutes,” he said. All he needed to provide was verification that he had an active, unencumbered nursing license, which he did through the National Licensing Board, NURSYS.
Under normal circumstances, Touchet wouldn’t have been able to pack up and serve as a nurse in a state such as New York. That’s because New York isn’t a member of The Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC). The NLC allows a nurse to have one multi-state license with the ability to practice in the home state and other compact states. Nurses who want to practice in states that aren’t part of the compact must get licenses specific to that state, which can be a costly, cumbersome process.
However, with New York desperate for nurses and other medical staff, Gov. Andrew Cuomo temporarily suspended those licensing requirements.
“I think that’s ridiculous that if my help is good enough today, down the road it wouldn’t be,” said Touchet.
Touchet is just one of more than a thousand retired and private practice doctors and nurses to answer Gov. Cuomo’s call to travel to the Big Apple and help treat coronavirus patients. Had Cuomo refused to suspend occupational licensing laws, their help would be illegal.
Of the many permeant changes COVID-19 could encourage, one is occupational licensing reform. If hospitals are able to function without these regulations in an emergency, why not in normal times.
Occupational licensing is a form of government regulation that requires a person to obtain a license in order to pursue a particular profession or vocation for compensation. Nearly 30% of jobs in America require this permission slip, yet many states are pushing back saying that doing so places unnecessary and burdensome barriers on people just trying to earn a living.
Having served as a paramedic for nearly a decade, Touchet said the reforms are even more desperate in that profession. Unlike nurses, EMS workers don’t have a compact that enables them to practice between member states.
“There’s no EMS compact for licensing,” he said. “There’s definitely a bigger need there.”
Of course, Touchet isn’t sitting around waiting for any of these reforms to happen. He’s in the heart of the COVID-19 crisis, focusing on the job at hand. Separated from his 8-year-old son and pregnant wife, sleeping in a hotel, and working 12-plus hour shifts, he’s doing what he can to get by.
“None of us know when this is going to end,” he said. On his first 12-hour shift, “we had almost 30 people die.” As a paramedic, he’s seen some pretty gruesome accidents. “But this is the worst way to die,” he said. “And it’s not just one or two.”
Touchet recalls one patient, a female, who was around the same age as him. She also had two young children at home, and looked at him scared. “She didn’t know if she was going to die,” he said, “and I didn’t either.
Because he only works in the ER or down at the tents, Touchet was never able to find out that woman’s fate.
Nonetheless, he’s grateful that occupational licensing laws didn’t prevent him from at least trying to help.
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