Legislation to improve access to care and address the primary care shortage in our state is unfortunately being blocked by a handful of state senators who insist on maintaining “business as usual.” The harsh reality is that this approach jeopardizes the health and wellbeing of millions of Floridians, particularly those in rural communities – and the problem is only getting worse.

With time running out, we urge the Florida Senate to pass legislation that would allow fully qualified advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) to practice independently and provide direct care to patients. Similar policies have been adopted by more than two dozen states and U.S. territories, and it’s time for lawmakers to modernize our laws and address these looming challenges.

Under HB 821, nurse practitioners would be able to serve patients directly without the involvement of a physician, and perform certain medical tasks and functions approved by a state advisory committee of physicians and APRNs. This bill recently passed through the Florida House of Representatives with bipartisan support, but is being stalled in the Senate due to powerful lobbying interests.

By embracing expanded scope of practice for nurse practitioners, lawmakers would directly help many of Florida’s citizens who currently lack access to a regular healthcare provider, including those who live in rural areas where access to care is a major challenge.

This lack of access to primary care physicians is one of the key drivers in increased emergency room visits, and the resulting increase in costs to citizens, hospitals and Medicaid. Under current law, APRNs and nursing clinics face unnecessary barriers from regulation and government red tape, leading some to close, even when there are no other primary care providers in the area.

Something as a somber and significant as signing a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order or death certificate can be hindered when a nurse practitioner must find and seek authorization from his or her protocol physician. I can recall one instance when, after an elderly patient with chronic illness passed away, the physician was not available to sign a death certificate. Without a physician’s signature, the deceased’s family had to choose whether to allow their relative to sit in a morgue until the physician returned from vacation two weeks later or pay $4,000 for an autopsy to release the body earlier.

This legislation would address that issue and allow appropriately trained nurse practitioners to practice to the full extent of their training.

APRNs are dedicated and highly trained professionals who care about improving the health and quality of life of their patients – no less so than physicians. With appropriate oversight and safeguards, they are fully capable of accepting greater responsibility for providing care directly to patients without the supervision of a physician. In fact, the National Institutes of Medicine has conducted an exhaustive study of all the available research and concluded that APRNs deliver safe high-quality health care with outcomes equal to that of physicians.

It’s time for Florida to join the mainstream of modern medicine and pass these commonsense reforms. Business as usual just won’t cut it this time.

Susan Lynch is a nurse practitioner and serves as CEO of the Florida Association of Nurse Practitioners. She lives in Deltona.