Lawmakers will work to change state law within the next few weeks to continue allowing health staff from other states to practice in New York facilities before Gov. Kathy Hochul's executive order related to the COVID-19 pandemic expires later this month.

The governor's executive order that declares a statewide disaster emergency due to ongoing health staffing shortage allows nurses, LPNs and physicians licensed in other states to practice medicine in New York. It sunsets May 22 — or a week-and-a-half after the federal COVID-19 emergency ends May 11.

State Assemblywoman Pat Fahy, a Democrat from Albany, introduced legislation this week to make a version of the pandemic practice permanent. The bill would permit health staff licensed in other states to practice medicine at a state health facility for six months while the State Education Department processes their application for a New York license.

"If this executive order expires prematurely, it could really leave a lot of our hospitals and nursing homes in even more of a bind," Fahy said Friday. "This will give us a little bit of an extension as we have serious workforce shortages, especially in our hospitals, especially in our nursing homes and quite often here in upstate New York."

The measure would have to pass both houses of the Legislature and be signed into law by the governor before May 22 to avoid impacts on current staff.

Representatives with Gov. Kathy Hochul and the state Health Department did not respond to repeated questions Friday about if the executive order will be extended or the number of out-of-state health staff who will be impacted by its expiration.

Senate Higher Education Committee Chair Toby Ann Stavisky is expected to sponsor the legislation in the upper house.

Fahy says health facilities upstate, especially in the Southern Tier and the North Country, have depended on health workers from other states to help with staffing shortages.

Fahy's bill would only permit nurses and physicians from other states to practice in New York while they wait to get their state license. It would not apply to traveling nurses practicing in the state temporarily. 

"We're not going to turn this around by May 22 when these executive orders are expected to expire, so we're looking for a little bit more time while we try to figure out this very serious problem," Fahy said of the health staffing crisis.

Several New York nurses said Friday they stand against the proposal, as health staff from other states have reduced medical standards and provide lower levels of patient care. Several associations that represent nurses or health workers in the state declined to be interviewed.

But Beatrice Grause, president and CEO of the Health Care Association of New York State, argues allowing health staff from other states to practice in New York provides flexibility to understaffed facilities.

The Health Care Association is in favor of the legislation, or Gov. Hochul extending the executive order.

"We're very happy — this is a step in the right direction," Grause said. "And very important because these are critical positions to fill."

Hospitals statewide have used the expanded flexibility to recruit health care workers to practice in the emergency room, operating room and clinics.

The legislation should apply to broader classifications of health workers, including respiratory therapists and other health professionals that continue to be in short supply nationwide, Grause said.

She disagrees with concerns that health staff from other states fail to give the same level of care.

"There really, to my knowledge, have been no issues with quality whatsoever," Grause said.

The association supports New York joining the national Nursing Licensure Compact, or the multi-state agreement that allows nurses to practice in any of the 39 U.S. states that have enacted it. New York is one of 11 U.S. states that has not.

Hospitals have increased dependence on traveling nurses since the pandemic, leading to increased costs and financial strain.

Grause said Gov. Hochul and legislative leaders have committed to address the health workforce shortage by increasing flexibility and expanding the staffing pipeline.

"This helps more efficiently provide care, but again, ensures that there's an adequate supply of qualified workers, to staff, our hospitals and nursing homes," she said. 

June 8 is the last day of scheduled legislative session for the year.