In September 2014, Enrique Mathews, a nurse for the Department of Veterans Affairs, was caring for an elderly veteran at the VA's Miami facility. The patient's vital signs were initially stable, but as the day progressed, his health began to deteriorate, according to the Miami Herald. His breathing, heart rate, oxygen levels and blood pressure all went through dangerous changes. And at no time did Mathews record the veteran's fluctuating vitals. He died 24 hours after Mathews began to care for him, and the latter was later sentenced to five years in prison for falsifying the veteran's medical records.
Despite this case, and many others like it, the VA actually wants to expand the power nurses have. Under this new proposal, nurses who have the correct training and education could treat patients without a doctor overseeing procedures.
"The purpose of this proposed regulation is to ensure VA has authority to address staffing shortages in the future," said VA Under Secretary for Health David Shulkin, according to a press release. "Implementation of the final rule would be made through VHA policy, which would clarify whether and which of the four APRN roles would be granted full practice authority."
The four APRN (Advanced Practiced Registered Nurses) roles include Certified Nurse Practitioner, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, Clinical Nurse Specialist and Certified Nurse Midwife.
According to the press release, the American Nurses Association was pleased with the proposal. ANA President Pamela Cipriano said, "VA will be able to more effectively meet the health care needs of our nation's veterans."
Despite the VA's apparent attempt to streamline the health care process, it should give Washington officials and veterans pause. The VA has had difficulty balancing great care with shortening wait times, and it needs to make sure that it's not sacrificing one for the other.