By Mary Camacho Torres
“To be trusted is a far greater compliment than to be loved.” George MacDonald penned that line over a hundred years ago, but its sentiment holds true today.
We talk a lot about supporting our nurses. We’re quick to craft commendatory resolutions and publicly pat them on the back for their role throughout the pandemic—and rightfully so. Despite a perennial shortage, they’ve fought tirelessly to save lives and keep this community safe.
But when they ask us for a bill to give them the support they need, suddenly we don’t trust them.
That’s the message behind the opposition to the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC).
The Writing on the Wall
Long before the COVID-19 outbreak, the Guam Board of Nurse Examiners urged that adopting the NLC would make it easier for nurses in other states to practice here—decreasing wait time to get a license while increasing accountability through the Compact’s high regulatory standards.
At their request, I authored a bill in 2019 to do just that. There were clear benefits to the policy—but the truth is I did it simply because our nurses asked me to. That was over a year ago.
A String of Stop-Gap Solutions
Since then, the pandemic has only increased the demand on our already-strained healthcare system. Our island has responded with every stop-gap measure we could think of—issuing emergency licenses, requesting extensions for active-duty medical personnel, and contracting with hiring agencies at a huge expense to our public hospital.
While our Guam board moved quickly and courageously, many traveling nurses found themselves held up by a cumbersome credentialing process. Had we been members to the Compact, nurses might have gone from airplane to hospital much faster—conserving precious time and resources.
Continuing the Fight for our Front Line
Despite the pleas from our nurse community, my bill never made it out of Committee last term. But it was the first measure I reintroduced in this one.
Last week, lawmakers heard from the Guam Board of Nursing Examiners, the Health Professional Licensing Office, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, and 500 local nurses reiterating their support for the NLC.
And while not everyone who testified that day was in favor—I can’t help but note how some of the loudest opponents in the room were neither nurses nor health care experts.
If overwhelming support from our front lines isn’t enough to move this bill forward, whose word do we really trust?
I agree with the need to increase local nurse salaries. It’s why I funded a pay study out of my office budget last term. But recruitment and retention aren’t mutually exclusive.
Saying we can’t recruit nurses until we improve conditions is like saying we can’t apply a bandage until the wound heals.
We should pursue every avenue possible to decrease our shortage. The NLC and its resources are one part of that.
In short, I don’t claim that Bill 13 will solve all our problems. I just don’t pretend to know better than the front liners who ask for this bill now.
I urge others to heed the repeated calls of the nursing community and back Bill 13. Otherwise, “supporting our nurses” will just be another empty phrase employed by hollow politicians.
Mary Camacho Torres is a senator in the 36th Guam Legislature, and a resident of Santa Rita.