Premium pay for front-line nurses considered

The Appropriations Committee heard testimony Feb. 22 on a proposal to provide funding for bonuses to certain front-line nurses.

Sen. Mike McDonnell
Sen. Mike McDonnell

Under LB1055, sponsored by Omaha Sen. Mike McDonnell, $50 million of the federal American Rescue Plan Act funds allocated to Nebraska would be appropriated to the state Department of Health and Human Services to fund a grant program for any hospital or federally qualified health center to provide premium pay bonuses to front-line nurses.

The bill defines a front-line nurse as an individual with direct patient care responsibilities. Individual grants could not exceed $5,000 and traveling nurses would not qualify for bonus pay under the bill.

McDonnell said the proposal would show Nebraska’s nurses that the state recognizes and appreciates their sacrifice during the pandemic and could help ensure that nurses stay in the profession and are able to continue providing needed care.

“The pandemic strained many facilities that were already short-staffed prior to COVID-19,” he said. “Nurses are now considering retiring early and many are leaving the profession altogether.”

Virginia Wolking, a registered nurse, testified in favor of the bill on behalf of Children’s Hospital and Medical Center, the Nebraska Hospital Association and the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Nebraska hospitals are competing for a small pool of nurses, she said, and Children’s Hospital has been able to replace only 40 percent of the nurses who left in 2021.

“Nurses are the glue that make sure — no matter what [other] discipline is short — the patient gets what they need,” Wolking said.

Saying the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic has worn on members of her profession, Kaitlin Rogge, an intensive care nurse, testified in favor of the bill. She said that even with a strong support system, she has experienced anxiety and has trouble sleeping due to the memory of lost patients.

Many nurses are suffering from burnout and struggling with their mental health, she said.

“With each loss, it is getting harder to compartmentalize the things that I have seen,” Rogge said. “LB1055 will not take away the pain and stress the pandemic has caused. It will not fade the memories of the pandemic or slow my anxious mind. It will, however, send a strong message to my nursing colleagues and friends that Nebraska stands behind their nurses.”

Nichole Hanson, a registered nurse with 10 years of ICU experience, also testified in support. Many nurses have sought professional help to deal with issues stemming from nursing during the pandemic, she said, and many have left the profession due to the stress.

“No matter how much death we may be accustomed to as an ICU nurse, nothing compares to wrapping a human body in a plastic bag,” Hanson said. “One thing you’re sure of, though, is that when you come home after your shift, you’ll have nothing left to give your family or yourself.”

No one testified in opposition to LB1055 and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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