Harvey and Irma: Can I Volunteer to Help?

By Jan Lanier, RN, JD, Chair of Health Policy Council

Many nurses have been asking how they might help out in the recent natural disasters caused by hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  Can I volunteer in Texas or Florida and what about licensure in those states?  Here are some answers to those questions.

The law of the state to which the nurse is going determines whether or not a license specific to that state is required.  In other words you need to look at the nurse practice acts for the states in question.  So here’s what the Boards of Nursing in Texas and Florida have to say.

TEXAS

“In accordance with Section 418.171 of Texas Government Code, any out-of-state nurse may practice in Texas for the purpose of rendering aid, provided the nurse holds a current license in good standing* in his/her home state.

Therefore, any out-of-state nurse with a license in good standing* is not required to hold a Texas license in order to practice nursing in a disaster relief effort operation setting.

“If prior to this update you have submitted an application for a temporary license for disaster purposes, and your home state license is in good standing*, you may begin practice to provide disaster related services in Texas.  Your application will still be processed and your will be notified when it is completed.

*Good standing means there is not current disciplinary action on your state nursing license(s).

“The Board of Nursing is not soliciting volunteers.  Nurses wishing to volunteer may contact the following to inquire about volunteer needs:

  • Texas Department of State Health Services Texas Disaster Volunteer Registry at:https://www.texasdisastervolunteerregistry.org/
  • The American Red Cross,  http://www.redcross.org/ Phone: (866)526-8300
  • Volunteer Houston,  http://volunteerhouston.org  Phone: (281)656-1533
  • Texas Gulf Coast Voluntary Organization Active in Disaster (VOAD) : http://txgulfcoastvoad.org.

A nurse with current disciplinary action on his/her state nursing license who wishes to practice nursing in a disaster relief effort operation setting in Texas should follow the procedure below:

 

PROCEDURE TO APPLY FOR TEMPORARY LICENSURE FOR LVNs and RNs:

 

PROCEDURE TO APPLY FOR INTERIM APPROVAL to PRACTICE as an ADVANCED PRACTICE REGISTERED NURSE (APRN):

APRNs requesting prescriptive authority will be reviewed for interim approval to prescribe dangerous drugs only.

Application fees are waived for this emergency process.

Applications will be reviewed and if the applicant has no current discipline or other eligibility issue, they will be issued a temporary license (LVN, RN) to practice or interim approval (APRN) for the purpose of responding to the declared emergency.

This license/interim approval is valid until the BON waiver issued by the Office of the Governor is terminated or until the Hurricane Harvey disaster declaration is lifted or expires.

A list of all approved temporary licenses/interim approvals issued for this purpose will be maintained by the BON.

 

FLORIDA

Obviously the Florida situation is a bit more fluid because that state is just beginning to respond to the crisis there.  The Florida’s nurse practice act states that no provision (including licensure requirements) should be construed as prohibiting assistance by ANYONE in the case of an emergency.  (Part 464.022).

So from that provision one can conclude that a nurse may help in an emergency. It is important to note that there is a difference between an emergency and a declared disaster, however.  There appears to be nothing in Florida law that specifically allows a nurse licensed in another state to provide services in a declared disaster—which often extends beyond the bounds of an emergency.  Whether the governor will issue executive orders that allow temporary practice for purposes of disaster relief in the state for providers licensed elsewhere remains unanswered at this time. (September 12, 2017).

Florida (like Texas) is a compact state so anyone who holds a compact license can go to either state without any licensure issues.   Ohio is NOT a compact state, however, so nurses residing here would need to meet one of the licensure exceptions set out in those states’ laws.

 

Keeping up with developments—

One way to keep abreast with the laws in any state is through the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (www.ncsbn.org).  That site provides links to each states’ board of nursing.  The Texas Board of Nursing’s web site is www.bontexas.gov.  The Florida Board’s web site is www.floridanursing.gov.

Thanks to all the nurses who are already volunteering or who are considering doing so.  Relief efforts will be needed for many months so it is not something that must be done immediately.