Created more than 50 years ago to meet the needs of government medical programs that had expanded to cover a greater number of clients, this week, health care professionals are being honored as part of national Nurse Practitioner Week, Nov. 10-16.
“In 1965, Medicare and Medicaid coverage expanded their coverage to low-income women, children, the elderly and people with disabilities,” creating a shortage in available physicians to provide primary care coverage, according to www.clinicaladvisor.com. “The NP profession began in response to a dearth of primary care providers, particularly for children, in urban and rural areas in the United States.”
Today, there are 270,000 nurse practitioners in the nation, who see an estimated 1 billion patients each year, states www.wechoosenps.org.
According to Delesa Bradley, FNP, “there are more than 25,000 nurse practitioners in Texas.”
In the 41 counties that comprise the East Texas region, there are 1,528 nurse practitioners serving the population, said Bradley, part of the East Texas Nurse Practitioner Association.
They have advanced graduate nursing education and clinical training, and oversee patient care from diagnosis to treatment, “developing care plans and prescribing medications,” she said. “In Texas, 70 percent of NPs are licensed in an area of primary care, although there are also those who specialize in mental health, acute care, geriatric care and other specialties.”
In treating the whole person, an NP “tends to focus more on prevention and wellness – a more holistic approach to health care. Also, their background as a nurse makes them empathetic, attentive and good listeners. For all of these reasons, it’s no surprise study after study shows NPs have high patient satisfaction scores and quality patient outcomes,” she added, referring to stats like that found on the website, www.wechoosenps.org, which notes a patient satisfaction rating of 98 percent.
In Texas, “We have 432 designated health professional shortage areas, which means there are not enough providers to serve the populations in those areas,” she said. “NPs are helping to fill those gaps, and every year we make more progress in Texas to increase access to NPs and other health care providers.
“Chances are you’ll see an NP at some point in your health care journey,” she added. “You can find NPs in almost every health care setting, from your local urgent care or Minute Clinic, to your doctor’s office or hospital. Annual wellness exams and physicals, sick visits, diabetes and chronic disease management, vaccinations -- these are just a few of the routine services NPs provide patients every day.”
In Cherokee County, the names Elaine Ballard, Jami Hicks and Deanna Adams may be familiar to local residents, playing a vital role in helping patients in need of quality, affordable, accessible healthcare.
Ballard is a nurse-practitioner who holds a doctorate in nursing and oversees a health clinic operated by The H.O.P.E. Center in Jacksonville. Hicks – a pediatric nurse practitioner – leads the four-member staff at the Children’s Clinic of Rusk. While Adams, a family nurse practitioner, focuses on long-term geriatric care, working with nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
An area association founded in the late 1990s, the East Texas Nurse Practitioner Association, is a professional, non-profit, Tyler-based entity “devoted to the support and advocacy for all nurse practitioners,” according to www.etnpa.org. “Our mission is to assist nurse practitioners in the delivery of quality, accessible and affordable healthcare for the citizens of East Texas, as well as, maximize our network of advanced practice providers while fostering an atmosphere of values that include honesty, integrity, reliability and respect.”
An affiliate of the Texas Nurse Practitioner Association, the entity serves practitioners throughout East Texas, including Cherokee and surrounding counties.
The group meets monthly, on second Tuesdays at local restaurants, “for educational dinners covering varied topics pertinent to specialty and Primary Care, and we provide opportunities for networking, promotion of education, and aim to promote health and wellness in our communities through individual service and support to local non-profits or social services,” Bradley said.
While the number of nurse practitioners has grown exponentially since the inception of the profession, it hasn’t been without challenge.
“The biggest challenge NPs face in Texas are the restrictive laws and regulations that prevent them from being able to practice and serve patients to the top of their license,” Bradley said. “Texas is one of the eight most restrictive states for NP practice in the country.
“For example, in Texas NPs cannot practice without entering into a contract with a physician, which sometimes can be costly or difficult to do in areas with physician shortages. Texas law also prevents NPs from being able to sign certain health care forms for their patients or prescribe the full range of medications a patient might need,” she said.
And this stymies services provided.
“Texas ranks 51st in healthcare in terms of access to care and affordability. If we’re going to improve access to care in our state, we need to leverage all of our healthcare providers to their full capabilities. NPs can be part of the solution to addressing some of our biggest healthcare challenges, but we need to get unnecessary regulatory barriers and red tape out of their way,” she said.