Maine has set itself apart as a leader in mobilizing the full strength of its health care workforce during this unprecedented COVID-19 crisis.

On March 18, Gov. Janet Mills signed into law L.D. 1660, an Act to Improve Access to Physician Assistant Care. This bill was selected by the Legislature to be fast-tracked in order to give physician assistants the ability to practice medicine to the full extent of their training and experience. The law removes the requirement for an experienced PA to have a supervising physician, while ensuring PAs continue to consult and collaborate with physicians and other providers as needed.

Less than a week later, Gov. Mills also issued an executive order immediately suspending supervisory requirements for PAs responding to the pandemic and allowing for retired PAs or those who have a lapsed license to quickly return to practice to help combat COVID-19.

These changes are crucial and will greatly increase how much PAs can contribute to the COVID-19 response and to Maine’s ongoing need for expanded access to health care around the state. The Maine Association of PAs (MEAPA) would like to thank the Legislature and Gov. Mills for recognizing the crucial role that PAs are playing in the fight against the coronavirus — and for taking these proactive steps in order to prepare and protect our state during this challenging  time.

Now is the time when we need all health care providers fully utilized, and with this new law and executive order, Maine’s over 850 PAs are empowered to do all we  can for patients.

PAs are medical professionals who diagnose illness, develop and manage treatment plans, prescribe medications, and often serve as a patient’s primary care provider. With thousands of hours of medical training, PAs practice in every state and in every medical setting and specialty.

PAs who work in hospitals, urgent care, and primary care settings are a significant part of the on-the-ground efforts to diagnose and treat the coronavirus nationwide. And many more PAs have answered the call to assist in any way they can. We are qualified, well-trained medical providers at the ready — but, unfortunately, many states do not grant PAs the flexibility to fully utilize their education and training.

The Act to Improve Access to Physician Assistant Care coupled with the executive order has granted PAs in Maine more flexibility and therefore greater ability to participate in the COVID-19 response. And since PAs are trained as medical generalists, they are able to treat the whole patient, and are well-qualified to evaluate, diagnose and treat COVID-19 patients.

Our nation needs more states to follow Maine’s leadership in maximizing PAs.

Maine is one of just six states that has waived physician supervision or collaboration requirements for PAs in executive orders related to COVID-19; the other five are Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Tennessee. Thirteen states previously removed physician supervision requirements in law or regulations for PAs during emergencies or disasters.

But that still leaves the majority of states without this crucial provision. That needs to change as soon as possible.

Outdated supervisory agreements complicate where and how PAs are allowed to practice, often preventing them from stepping in where they’re needed most. In a health care crisis like this one, these limitations force PAs to sit on the sidelines when we could otherwise be saving lives.

The American Academy of PAs (AAPA) is calling on all governors to waive supervision requirements, and MEAPA stands with AAPA on this request.

PAs become PAs in order to care for people — and now, when we are needed most, every PA in Maine can do just that. For the good of our country, we need all states to be able to say the same.

Gretchen Preneta, PA-C, of Portland, is president of the Maine Association of Physician Assistants.

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