Tuesday, Feb. 21 dawned as just another winter’s day for RTs in Iowa. But it sure didn’t end that way. Late in the afternoon leaders in the Iowa Society for Respiratory Care (IaSRC) were contacted by their lobbyist, Matt Eide, who told them a bill had just been introduced into the legislature calling for the de-licensure of a range of professionals – including respiratory therapists.
This past Monday, Feb. 27, that bill was torn in half by the chair of the subcommittee in the legislature responsible for moving it any further on the legislative agenda.
Respiratory therapists in Iowa can thank their leaders in the IaSRC who, with support from the AARC leadership and Executive Office staff, mounted a massive response to the bill.
Three talking points
“Ironically, the IaSRC had a legislative breakfast scheduled the following day, Wednesday, February 22 from 7-9 a.m., without even knowing the bill was a possibility,” says IaSRC President Amy Boeckmann, MPA, RRT. “Needless to say, our lobbyist and his team texted several legislators, resulting in an excellent turnout to communicate our concerns to the legislators that had just heard about the bill.”
About 20 students and five IaSRC board members attended the breakfast, including students from districts with representatives on the subcommittee responsible for reviewing the bill and deciding whether it would continue through the legislature.
“We kept our talking points to the legislators strictly on patient safety, patient advocacy, and competency of the care team,” says IaSRC Delegate Gary Smith, RRT.
AARC member Brian Best, BA, CRT, who is currently serving his first term in the state legislature, was one of the legislators in the room and, as you might suspect, offered strong support for maintaining licensure for RTs in the state.
From there the state society launched an all-out offensive, using social media to alert therapists throughout the state about the bill and calling key department directors to enlist their support. The AARC supplied talking points and legislative letter templates, which the IaSRC quickly posted on its website so therapists could contact their district representatives to stress the danger to the public inherent in any legislation seeking to de-license RTs.
“We are appreciative of the AARC’s experience and expertise to guide us during this challenging time for respiratory therapists in the state of Iowa,” says Boeckmann. “Because of the AARC, the IaSRC leadership never felt alone — we knew we could get any assistance we needed by contacting the AARC.”
The quick dissemination of information led many RTs to not only write their legislators but also attend town hall meetings that were taking place across the state over the weekend. The media heard about the legislation too, and AARC member Tamara Alt, BA, RRT-NPS, was interviewed by the ABC-TV affiliate out of Des Moines on Thursday, the 23rd.
Alt noted that if Iowa chose to de-license RTs it would place the state at odds with 48 other states in the union who do license people in her profession. She also emphasized the patient safety issues involved. “Not having regulation to ensure safety of the practitioner that is at the bedside is a significant concern,” she told the reporter.
RTs get unexpected support
It all came to a head on Monday, when the subcommittee convened to hear testimony from the public on the bill.
“Because this bill had widespread effects on many licensed professions the subcommittee meeting was standing room only and spilled into the hallway,” says Smith. He attended the session along with Boeckmann, Eide, Past AARC President Kerry George, MEd, RRT-ACCS, FAARC, and a local therapist, Andy Hayes.
“Amy and Kerry spoke and voiced opposition to the bill on the key three talking points, patient safety, patient advocacy, and competency,” says Smith.
As it turned out, another speaker who was there to advocate for those who test hearing and audiology devices advocated for RTs as well. “He concluded his presentation with a personal story that he had 26 week old triplets and he can’t imagine anyone other than a licensed respiratory therapist taking care of his premature infants,” says Boeckmann.
One of the representatives on the subcommittee, Mary Mascher, weighed in too by noting she had a grandchild who was born at 24 weeks and survived in part due to the skill of the licensed respiratory therapists on the care team.
When the meeting was over, Subcommittee Chair Bobby Kaufmann had heard enough. “I wanted to publicly declare that when it comes to licensure reform and the taking away of all the things that you all have done and that you have dedicated your lives for, as far I’m concerned, my opinion is this,” he was quoted as saying in the Des Moines Register just as he ripped the bill in two.
Applause rang out in the room, and no one was clapping harder than the RTs from the IaSRC. “I think it was a very powerful action to show that he really does not tolerate removing licensure in Iowa and how emotionally charged he was regarding the bill,” says Boeckmann.
Smith agrees. “The uproar this bill created in less than a week from introduction made a huge impact on the legislature and the fact that many Iowans understand that their health and safety need to be protected through the appropriate use of licensure of professionals caring for them.”