As Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) urges health-care workers to help meet the surge in New York, governors across the country are preparing for their own crises by slashing red tape. Since medical licenses are regulated mostly at the state level, it’s largely up to states to eliminate regulatory hurdles for qualified medical professionals to be able to offer their talents in an emergency. Most states have relaxed medical license regulations by granting temporary licenses to out-of-state physicians, waiving licensing fees or activating interstate compact laws that can expedite medical licensing between states. Some states are temporarily licensing doctors who are licensed and in good standing in foreign countries. All states should streamline the temporary licensing process as much as possible. States should also take steps recommended by the National Governors Association and the Department of Health and Human Services, such as providing emergency child care for health-care workers, clearing the way for telemedicine and ensuring that students training to join the health-care workforce can stay on track.
All these are important measures to try to keep our hospitals afloat. But hospitals depend on more than doctors and nurses. Other vital providers include physician assistants, pharmacists and first responders. Respiratory therapists are especially crucial right now. There was a shortage even before the pandemic, and their work with patients’ lungs now puts them at higher risk.
Perhaps least appreciated are those not directly involved in clinical care but whose work ensures that hospitals remain clean, safe and efficient. Environmental service workers who take patients their meals, clean linens and operating rooms, and staff hospital cafeterias make far less money than physicians and are least likely to be prioritized for PPE. Like medical professionals, they risk their well-being just by showing up to work these days. They often possess specialized knowledge that makes them less replaceable than one might assume — custodial workers in hospitals, for example, must follow specific sanitation protocols to ensure patients’ safety.
“Stay home for us while we go to work for you,” health-care workers urge. That is the least we can do. We should do even more to support our hospitals: find better child-care solutions for workers, provide all workers with PPE, and make sure our formal and informal efforts remember all the people going to work for us — even the ones we don’t always recognize.