In an impressive 19-year running streak, Americans have rated nurses as the #1 most ethical and honest profession, according to the most recent Gallup poll. (Nurses, 89%, Medical Doctors, 65% Lawyers, 22%, Executives, 20%, and member of Congress, 12%) This is a testament to the public’s trust for this profession. For this reason, nurses are an essential voice for improving the overall landscape of health and our health care system.
In this pandemic, the nurses remain on the front line of this relatively unknown, extremely contagious disease. At the beginning, nurses were caring for patients while dealing with a lack of essential supplies, including personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves, and gowns, while actively caring for Montanans.
This pandemic has highlighted the need for nurses in Montana and all over the US. The average age of a nurse in Montana is 47.6 years according to the Montana Department of Labor. The Big Sky Economic Development Corporation states that RN openings have increased by 75% over 2019, and currently, there are over 256 RN postings in Billings.
Montana is the oldest state west of the Mississippi, according to median age statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. With half the state’s population 40 or older, we are the ninth oldest in the nation, out-grayed only by Florida, Maine, and a few other eastern states.
House Bill #297 will provide nurses, if needed, with workers compensation coverage who have contracted COVID-19 while at work. The occupational disease designation eliminates the challenges of identifying the precise date of the exposure and only requires that work exposure to be the leading cause of the illness.
The Montana Nurses Association surveyed their members regarding COVID-19 and workers compensation. Over twenty eight percent of those surveyed contracted COVID-19 over the past year. Of those that contracted COVID-19, over 92% did not file a workers’ compensation claim, majority citing they did not know that was an option. Of the little over 7% of nurses that did file a claim, over 68% were denied. Now the most important question of all, of those that contracted COVID-19 over the past year, only a little over 12% of employers encouraged nurses to file a claim.
Nurse have been the tip of spear in fighting back this pandemic. Nurses have had our back. It is time we had their back. Please join me and stand with Montana Nurses.
Rep. Mary Caferro, D-Helena, represents House District 81 in the Montana Legislature.