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Pa. Should Utilize Nurse Anesthetists in COVID-19 Response

Pennsylvania Association of Nurse Anesthetists


CONTACT: Kurt Knaus, P: 717-724-2866

Pa. Should Utilize Nurse Anesthetists in COVID-19 Response

Public affairs TV program to spotlight role of nurse anesthetists in pandemic

HARRISBURG (April 17, 2020) --- As the COVID-19 pandemic continues its spread in Pennsylvania, certified registered nurse anesthetists are uniquely qualified to provide care for critically ill patients, according to the Pennsylvania Association of Nurse Anesthetists. Yet, these frontline health-care workers remain an untapped resource for fulfilling critical roles outside the operating room during this crisis.

PANA President Angelarosa DiDonato and PANA Federal Political Director Laura Wiggins outlined the work of CRNAs and the challenges they face during a taping of the statewide public affairs TV program, “Pennsylvania Newsmakers,” which is set to begin airing this weekend.

PHYSICIAN SUPERVISION: Pennsylvania still requires physician supervision of a CRNA. However, under the directive of President Donald Trump, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services removed the national physician supervision requirement and encouraged states to allow CRNAs to practice to the fullest extent of their education and training to best care for patients during this crisis.

States like New York, West Virginia, Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, Arizona and others already have acted to remove barriers, allowing them to better utilize all available health-care providers without risking patient safety. PANA has been urging Gov. Tom Wolf and his administration to lift the requirement in the commonwealth.

“This is a respiratory pandemic,” DiDonato said. “CRNAs often work with patients’ airways and perform intubations and other procedures. Our education and clinical experience make us central to any response. We want to do all we can to help.”

Removing the supervision requirement of CRNAs in Pennsylvania will avail more physicians to provide hands-on care, expand the capacity of both CRNA and physician providers, and augment the state’s health-care system to meet the growing demands of this pandemic.

PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT: Like other frontline health-care workers, personal protective equipment (PPE) is crucial for CRNAs, and the shortage of some material has been alarming --- especially after guidance came from the federal government that during shortages, any facial covering, even a bandanna, would be better than nothing.

To help protect its members, PANA, which represents more than 3,700 CRNAs and students in Pennsylvania, invested $40,000 to purchase 1,000 masks for CRNAs who need them, or for those who may have been working in facilities where PPE was limited or quantities were diminishing, especially in high-need areas.

The masks, which are being sourced and manufactured in part through Ifft Enterprises in Evans City in western Pennsylvania, have been innovatively designed after extensive review of a variety of mask prototypes used by health- care professionals. The masks are reusable and feature a filter, with three replacements.

Each CRNA must request the mask individually. The manufacturer then ships the masks directly to the CRNA. But PANA is underwriting the full cost --- both manufacturing and shipping.

“We are proud of the work CRNAs are doing to respond to this crisis and remain committed to doing all we can as an association to keep CRNAs healthy and safe so they in turn can keep patients healthy and safe,” Wiggins said.

PROFESSIONAL DESIGNATION: Pennsylvania is one of just two states that fails to formally recognize CRNAs in some form. Because there is no definition for “certified registered nurse anesthetist” under the state’s Professional Nursing Law, CRNAs are recognized only as registered nurses, not as CRNAs. That brings logistical and financial burdens, and it continues to inhibit our full response to this health-care pandemic.

In response to COVID-19, many CRNAs want to contribute more in the facilities where they work but can’t. Likewise, hospitals and other health-care institutions want to use CRNAs to their fullest capacity but can’t. Many of these facilities feel restricted by the way the state licenses CRNAs and will not allow nurse anesthetists to provide advanced, critical care services, even though it is within their education, training, clinical experience and scope of practice --- meaning this valuable health-care resource remains untapped during a time of crisis.

There are other challenges as well. Pennsylvania nurse anesthetists who serve in the military must secure designation in another state to provide anesthesia in the armed services. They cannot assist on rapid response teams in states affected by natural disasters because they lack formal credentials. And, after receiving training in Pennsylvania, many nurse anesthetists relocate to states with full credentialing, contributing to the state’s “brain drain.”

Bipartisan measures have been introduced in both chambers to recognize nurse anesthetists as “CRNAs” under Pennsylvania statute, with one bill (S.B. 325), sponsored by Sen. John R. Gordner (R-Columbia), receiving Senate approval last year. The legislation remains under consideration in the House Professional Licensure Committee.

Results of a recent statewide public opinion poll shows that two-thirds (67%) of Pennsylvania voters support professional designation for certified registered nurse anesthetists, including those who identify as Republican (59%), Democrat (75%) and Independent (62%).

“Broad support like this should give lawmakers the confidence they need to advance this measure and finally provide CRNAs with professional designation,” DiDonato said.

“Pennsylvania Newsmakers” is one of the state’s premier politics and public policy television talk shows. The program runs statewide. For more information or to view the program, visit:

For more information about CRNAs in Pennsylvania, visit or follow along on social media via Twitter at @PANACRNA or on Facebook at


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