DENVER (CBS4) – Many former doctors, nurses and other health care workers may soon return to their old careers and re-deploy around the state to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. On Friday, Gov. Jared Polis asked them to consider contacting their old employers to help treat and test people for the virus.
“I’ve asked the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies to cut through the red tape on licensing our medical professionals, so that medical professionals, including pharmaceutical, nurses, doctors who are licensed in other states but residing here, can be immediately licensed in Colorado as quickly as possible to practice,” Polis said in a press conference Friday.
On Monday afternoon, the state welcomed 50 new nurses from the Freedom Health Care Staffing Company who will help out at testing sites and health care facilities. It was made possible by a portion of the money from the Disaster Emergency Fund ordered in Governor Jared Polis’ Executive Order.
Still, Colorado will likely need more health care professionals in the coming weeks, as COVID-19 continues to spread rapidly.
“As health care workers are diagnosed, they will be out of the workforce for 14 days, so we need to back fill those positions,” Polis said Friday. “That’s why we’ve eased the licensure requirement, and we’re encouraging people that aren’t in the workforce but are qualified to consider temporarily re-entering the workforce.”
Denver resident and retiree Kathi Heath heard the Governor’s call to action loud and clear while watching CBS4 Friday afternoon.
“I heard it and actually picked up the phone while you guys were taping,” Heath said.
Three days later, the nurse of more than 15 years from Wisconsin finished FEMA certification online, and hopes to soon answer COVID-19 questions through a Denver help line. To be able to help in the ways she used to, Heath would have to go through the lengthy process of renewing her license.
“It’s a good feeling to give back. It’s a good feeling to maybe hone some skills again and just see where it goes from there, and just help people in a time that it’s really needed,” Heath said. “And if it goes further than that, I’m happy about that too.”
Over the coming weeks, people like Kathy could be in high demand for Colorado health care providers. State officials are preparing for the virus’ impact on the workforce, as well as extreme scenarios already seen in China and Italy.
“We know that there are a lot of health care workers that are on the front lines of this that are getting worn out, many of them are getting sick themselves, so we’re just hoping we can up that capacity in the event it needs to be called upon,” said Jill Sarmo, Director of Communications and Public Engagement for DORA, the state’s regulatory agency for health care licensing.
Last week, DORA sent out a new guidance, in conjunction with the Governor’s plea to retired health care workers. It details new ways of getting retired professionals back in the workforce, such as honoring a 60-day grace period for expired licenses, and allowing spouses of military members to practice with an out of state license.
Soon, there could be more emergency provisions to safely and legally bolster the workforce more, such as expediting the process of license renewal for former doctors and nurses.
“So, we want to encourage those folks to be thinking about the ways that, if they want to get involved and they want to help out, then they can take advantage of that and they won’t face a penalty,” Sarmo said.
Sarmo tells CBS4 an updated guidance will be sent out later this week.
Additional Information from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment:
- Practice good hygiene. Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water. In the absence of soap and water, use hand-sanitizer; use your elbow or sleeve to cover coughs and sneezes
- Stay home if you’re sick; keep your children home if they are sick. The illness can last for many days so make preparations now to work from home if possible.
- We advise Coloradans to always be prepared for an emergency– like a large snowstorm– and have a plan for your family. Make sure to have 72 hours of key supplies on hand like medications, infant formula, diapers, pet food, etc. FEMA guidance for pre-pandemic COVID-19 preparedness is available on Ready.gov.
- Stay informed with reliable, up-to-date information. People who have general questions about coronavirus disease 2019, can call CO HELP at 303-389-1687 or 1-877-462-2911 or email COHELP@RMPDC.org, for answers in English and Spanish (Español), Mandarin (普通话), and more.