Physician assistants push for state bill to expand access to healthcare

Published: Mar. 8, 2023 at 6:24 PM EST
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - Supporters of a proposed state senate bill, SB 553, say it would expand access to healthcare in South Carolina.

Physician assistant Dustin Hayes said most of his days are jam-packed. Last month, he said he practically lived at the hospital where he works because of a shortage of healthcare providers.

“I’ve worked twenty-two twelve-hour shifts,” said Hayes. “Twenty-two out of twenty-eight days I was in the hospital working, going from one community to the next, just to make sure that patients had the care that they needed.”

According to the healthcare company Kaiser, only 69% of primary care needs in South Carolina are currently being met. SB 553 would allow for fewer barriers for nurse practitioners and PAs to practice-- including allowing those who have practiced more than 6000 hours to practice without a supervising physician in certain situations like volunteer and disaster care.

“Not only are there not enough physicians to see patients, but it’s also very difficult in some circumstances to find a physician who’s willing to sign on as a supervising physician so that a PA can even see those patients,” said Jennifer Marshall, co-chair of the South Carolina Academy of Physician Assistants Legislative Committee.

PAs like Hayes are confident in their training.

“PAs and nurse practitioners have gone to school for quite some time, we’ve been educated and trained and worked in these environments,” he said.

Paul Richardson, Conway Medical Center’s Chief Medical Officer, agrees that staffing shortages are a problem, but has concerns about the legislation.

“I don’t know that the reported benefits and increased access, you know, counterbalance what I see as the major negatives of difference in training,” said Richardson.

PAs and nurse practitioners gathered in Columbia Wednesday to advocate for the bill. State Senator Tom Davis, who sponsored the legislation, said it is not meant to put patients in any kind of danger.

“The most ideal situation would be for somebody who’s in need of medical attention to always have access to a physician, I mean, a physician is obviously going to be the highest trained most professional, medical professional, that we have,” said Davis. “But, the reality is, there aren’t enough physicians in South Carolina.”

Davis also said the bill’s intent is not to ask for permission for PAs and NPs to do anything beyond their training.

“It isn’t a question of competency, it’s a question of within the range of what they’re trained to do, removing impediments to their ability to provide that care of South Carolinians,” said Davis.