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California’s AB5 gig economy law puts Nurses at risk during COVID-19

Written By | Mar 19, 2020
ABG, California, Gig-Economy law, Nurses, CNS, RNS

LOS ANGELES: On March 17, KTLA News reported: “National Nurses United and California Nurses Association, rallied in front of the UCLA Medical Center Tuesday evening, calling for more protection and equipment to treat coronavirus patients.” Both over oppressive training regulations and the AB5 gig economy law is causing delays in refreshing hospitals first-line of COVID-19 defense – the nation’s nursing staff.

“Speakers said there are huge problems all around the state with a lack of proper protective gear and training in treating patients with the highly infectious virus.”
‘In order to keep you safe we must be kept safe. We are putting ourselves at risk,’ Marcia Santini, a registered nurse, said.” –CA nurses call for more protection, equipment and training to treat COVID-19 patients

California regulations require that 75 percent of a nursing student’s clinical education be done during hospital rotations. The remaining 25 percent to be via simulated training. Medscape, an online resource, is reporting that California’s leading nursing educators are appealing to the state’s Board of Registered Nursing to ease the number of on-site clinical hours required for student nurses to graduate. Thus allowing students to learn from simulations instead.

Dr. John Prescott, chief academic officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges told Medscape, “Medical education hasn’t faced anything quite like this since the beginning of the second World War.”

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Registered Nurse Fong Chu told KTLA,

“This is like we’re soldiers going to war. If we’re not equipped well, we’re not going to win this battle.”

Impact of the AB5 law

AB5 is preventing key medical educators from doing the work of equipping our current and future healthcare professionals for this crisis.

A growing number of California hospitals are discontinuing clinical rotations for nursing students amid the coronavirus outbreak. Nursing schools say that they will delay student graduations at a time when additional nurses are sorely needed.

Laurie Blunk, MSN-Ed, RN and Healthcare Educator explains,

“Healthcare workers need a lot of continuing education and most of that is done through contract work. Hospitals cannot afford to hire an educator for their facilities. That’s where we come in.”

Laurie specializes in training Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs), new, and nurses re-certifying in their profession. Certifications are very specific: a Pre-Natal Nurse RN cannot train and certify a Certified Nursing Assistant. So Blunk fills a particular niche.

“There are all these care providers who need continuing education. In the State of California, CNAs by law must do a certain amount of education in the classroom, face to face. CNAs are the hardest working physically—they change the bed, they do your bathroom care, they are there when you’re throwing up. They have to do 48 hours of continuing education every two years. If any of those CNAs cannot finish their hours, they cannot be re-certified.”

With AB5’s stringent ABC test, Laurie Blunk does not meet the B portion of the test: The person performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business.

As an independent medical professional and educator for 5 years, and a nursing career that spans over 30 years, because of the AB5 law, Blunk can no longer legally train Certified Nursing Assistants.

Unintended consequences seem to be a hallmark of the ill-conceived AB5 law. In this COVID-19 pandemic, when all available medical personnel is essential, the law is preventing current nurses from being properly re-certified. It is also holding new nurses back from graduation. This is depleting the ability to get new nurses onto the floor.

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Unfortunately, both the National Nurses United and the California Nurses Association are now protesting unsafe conditions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, they are the very same unions who rallied and gave money in support of AB5’s passage.

A classic example of being careful what you wish for.

In this regard, the unions have abandoned California nurses. Within Blunk’s network of nurse educators (all Independent Professionals), they have had to suspend any training scheduled due to the murkiness surrounding the AB5 law.

“I have been in conversations with people I know who provide continuing education,” Laurie said. “They have canceled every class that they have in California through the end of August. There are all these care providers who need continuing education and won’t be able to get it.”

Just as the California Future Health Workforce Commission warned about a nursing shortage, the  Mercury News echoed the same in a recent report: Coronavirus fallout: California schools seek change to graduate nursing students on time,

“Experts predict the state could be short nearly 200,000 nurses by 2030, with rural areas taking the biggest hit.”

And this number was calculated before the COVID-19 panic.

Cara, who was interviewed in the first part of this series, warned about the blight this law is producing in rural areas in and around the Coachella Valley. Laurie Blunk shares a similar sentiment.

“Big organizations can afford to have a full-time staff of educators. The smaller, poorer community hospital cannot afford to do all this,” she opined.

Laurie continues,

“California’s regulations are overdone. They are ridiculous. There are all the barriers that California has that we have to meet.”

The newest barrier of AB5 is putting the lives of both nurses and patients in jeopardy. As referenced above, California doctors and nurses have equated this fight against Covid-19 to war. Along with proper masks and respiratory equipment nurses require, they also need consistent and continual training by certified healthcare professionals. “So many barriers in place, so when something like this occurs we could have had the steps in place,” Laurie said.

The professionals who are equipped and willing to meet this need, are now unable to fulfill it because of AB5.

It would behoove Governor Newsom to equip those on the frontline of the battle by removing the barrier of the AB5 law. This would allows nurses to get the training and certification needed to wage the war against COVID-19.

Read More from Jennifer Oliver-O’Connell here


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Jennifer Oliver OConnell

Jennifer Oliver OConnell offers witty, insightful, and direct opinion, analysis and musings on local and national politics and popular culture, with occasional detours into reinvention, food, and Yoga. Jennifer also teaches Yoga, and coaches clients on careers and reinvention. You can keep up with what's in Jennifer's orbit through her As the Girl Turns website.