Atrium Health, North Carolina’s largest hospital system, announced it is backing efforts to allow high-skilled nurses to practice at the full level of their education and training.

In a letter to lawmakers, the system writes that, “[a]t Atrium, we have had a position for more than a decade related to healthcare transformation:  if it improves access, reduces cost, and improves quality, then Atrium Health supports it. That position clearly directs us to support full practice authority for APRNs.”

Currently, Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) are required to get a signed supervision agreement once every six months and pay a fee to a doctor to serve patients. Senator Gale Adcock said the mandate “amounts to a permission slip to go to work.

Removing this barrier would increase access to care and significantly lower costs, reports show.

The endorsement of Atrium Health is major news for those supporting legislation such as the SAVE Act.

While SAVE Act has regularly been supported by large groups of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, strong opposition and deep pockets from the medical lobby has kept the bill from passing.

If more health systems follow Atrium’s lead, however, it may create a groundswell of momentum too large for the medical lobby to stop.

The medical lobby has historically argued against the SAVE Act on the grounds of “patient safety,” saying that these highly trained nurses need to have a doctor’s supervision.

Reports have found, however, that “some doctors supervise nurses from out of state, or by phone.” This is hardly the kind of hands-on, high-quality supervision one would imagine if safety were a top concern.

North Carolina is one of just 12 states that restricts APRNs from working to the full extent of their training and ability without this supervision.

In 2002, Arizona removed a similar regulatory burden and just five years later saw a 73 percent jump of APRNs working in rural areas.

A Duke University healthcare economist estimates North Carolina would save up to $6.4 billion each year by removing this regulatory burden.

The SAVE Act has been years in the making.

The support from Atrium Health is a major step in the right direction for anyone concerned with lower healthcare costs and better access to care in North Carolina.

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