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Controversial nurse anesthetist bill moves to Pa. senate

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A nurse anesthetist bill that has divided the Pennsylvania medical community has passed the state House and moved on to the Senate.

Pennsylvania House Bill 1603, introduced by Beaver County Republican Rep. Jim Christiana, would turn regulations that have been in effect for decades into law. The regulations prohibit certified registered nurse anesthetists from providing anesthesia care in a hospital without supervision of an anesthesiologist or a physician.

The bill passed the House by a 131-67 vote and is now in the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee.

The legislation is supported by the Pennsylvania Medical Society, which calls it an "important patient safety measure," and by the Pennsylvania Society of Anesthesiologists.

PSA President Dr. Richard O'Flynn said the society thinks the current system works well and is vital to protecting patients, particularly in critical situations. For example, he said, recently he worked on a case in which a patient came in with a ruptured aorta, got 15 units of blood in the operating room and went into cardiac arrest three times during the procedure.

"I'm not sure something of that nature would have gone as well as it did without a physician as a supervisor," O'Flynn said.

However, the Pennsylvania Association of Nurse Anesthetists opposes the bill, saying that at least 33 other states have come to recognize the value of CRNAs in health-care settings.

"Numerous studies show CRNAs provide high-quality anesthesia care, even for rare and difficult procedures; and that as demand for health care continues to grow, increasing the number of CRNAs will be a key to containing costs while maintaining quality care," a PANA news release said. It noted that other opponents of the bill include The Hospital & Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association and individual gastroenterologists across the commonwealth.

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