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Local nurses have no trouble with new law
Some 3,500 registered nurses across Georgia have found themselves in a bind.

The state is holding their license to practice -- indefinitely -- unless they comply with a new law.

Amended in 2011, the law requires all nurses seeking initial or renewed licenses to submit verifiable documentation of their U.S. citizenship or qualified alien status.

The newer requirement requires a longer time period for license processing, which can take several weeks to complete.

For the most part, health care providers in Glynn County have managed to avoid panic.

Sharon Smith, health services program manager at the Glynn County Health Department in Brunswick, says staff was promptly notified of the change.

The proof-of-citizenship law comes at a time when health experts are warning of a national shortage of nurses.

"Our clinical administrators reminded us to submit the necessary paperwork very early on," Smith said. "We knew it was going to be tougher and take longer this year, but it's just one of those things you can't put off till the last minute."

Without a license, Smith says it's impossible to work as a registered nurse, which is why most started the application process as soon as they were informed of the changes.

She says there are multiple options for submitting the required paperwork.

"You could either scan it and send it in online or even fax it. It seems confusing because it was just something new, but when you actually looked at it, it wasn't hard," Smith said.

However, she says she can see why it might have added additional strain for people who don't often use or have immediate access to scanners or fax machines.

Those did not seem to be issues for nurses in the Glynn County School System either.

Susan Barber, lead school nurse for the school system, said none of the 22 school nurses had problems with their renewals, which are done every two years.

The Southeast Georgia Health System, one of the largest employers of registered nurses with 503 on staff, also has experienced very limited effects from the amended law.

Elizabeth Gunn, a registered nurse and vice president of Patient Care Services, says the health system worked proactively to notify its team members as soon as the documentation requirements were made known.

"Our RNs were able to get their submissions through without any issues," she said. "Only a few had to submit their documentation more than once, and we do not have any nurses who failed to submit their documentation appropriately."

The state adopted a similar law that went into effect in 2012 for those applying for or renewing a driver's license.

* Reporter Sarah Lundgren writes about education and other local topics. Contact her at slundgren@thebrunswick, on Facebook or at 265-8320, ext. 322.

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