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Taylorsville Journal

Taylorsville state representative honored by nurse practitioners

May 26, 2020 11:50AM ● By Carl Fauver

State House 39 Rep. Jim Dunnigan (center) received a prestigious award recently from the Utah Nurse Practitioners Association. (Courtesy Beth Luthy)

By Carl Fauver | [email protected]

At a time when we all love and appreciate nurses, probably more than ever before, it’s the nurses who are heaping praise on a Taylorsville House representative for his work on their behalf.

District 39 Rep. Jim Dunnigan has been named recipient of the 2020 American Association of Nurse Practitioners® Utah State Award for Nurse Practitioner Advocate Excellence. According to a news release from the organization, “This prestigious award is given annually to a dedicated nurse practitioner (NP) advocate in each state. Recipients (were to be) honored at an awards ceremony and reception held during the AANP 2020 National Conference, June 23-28, in New Orleans.”

At this point, it appears that conference will be postponed, though the official decision to do so had not yet been announced at press time. Thanks again, coronavirus.

However, last fall Dunnigan was honored in Utah by local nurse practitioners. Among their members is Associate BYU Professor Beth Luthy.

“[Dunnigan] will be the first elected leader to win the award from the state of Utah,” Luthy said. “His work during the 2019 state legislative session to amend the Nurse Practice Act has given thousands of nurse practitioners in our state more control over their practice. This was our third attempt to run legislation to get rid of antiquated practices. With [Dunnigan’s] guidance, this time we were successful.”

Most of us are familiar with the acronyms LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) and RN (Registered Nurse). LPNs typically earn their credentials in about a year, while RNs can pursue two- or four-year programs. The most recent numbers show Utah is home to about 2,800 LPNs and some 29,000 RNs.

The type of nurse you may be less familiar with, Advanced Practice Registered Nurses, have undergone more education and are closer to being doctors. Perhaps most critically, APRNs are allowed to prescribe medicines. There are about 1,800 APRNs in Utah. These are the practitioners Dunnigan’s legislation assisted. And he had to take on a Utah lobbying powerhouse to get it done.

“It was an absolute war between the nurses and the Utah Medical Association,” Dunnigan said. “It was a turf war that made no sense to me.”

In order for APRNs to prescribe medicine in Utah, they are required to secure a “consult agreement” with a licensed doctor in the state. Dunnigan argued often these agreements can cost an APRN $10,000 per year, or more, and have little to no practical value. 

“Nurse after nurse told me they get nothing out of these agreements,” Dunnigan said. “It’s simply a fee they are forced to pay. I wanted to change the law so rural Utahns could have better access to qualified medical care.”

Dunnigan’s legislation made two major changes in the Utah Nurse Practice Act. First, the number of years APRNs are required to have a consult agreement was cut in half, from two years to one. Second, APRNs can now strike that consult agreement with a more experienced APRN and are no longer required to have the agreement with a doctor.

When he was honored by the Utah AANP Chapter, his presenter said, “To pass the law, Rep. Dunnigan worked non-stop to garner the support of Republicans and Democrats alike. Most impressive, however, was the masterful negotiations he navigated with representatives from the Utah Medical Association.”

“This is one of the bigger pieces of legislation I have sponsored, and it was a big honor for the organizations to honor me,” Dunnigan said. “More Utahns will now have better access to quality medical care, with shorter wait times and at lower costs. I did it because I thought it was right.”

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