New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen has taken lots of political heat over her decision to allow specially trained nurses to administer anesthesia without the direct supervision of a medical doctor.
But after the American Society of Anesthesiologists' political action committee ran advertisements harshly critical of Shaheen in six New Hampshire newspapers, a coalition of hospitals, doctors, nurses and patients held a press conference yesterday to lend support to the controversial decision by the Democratic governor.
"We were afraid these ads were going to scare people -- we wanted to set the record straight," said Carolyn Edy, a spokeswoman for the New Hampshire Hospital Association. "We wanted to give people the information behind the governor's decision."
The anesthesiologists' full-page ads featured a bold headline that declares Shaheen, who is running for U.S. Senate, "just put your life at risk with the stroke of a pen." In a misprint, the ads also claimed that 80% of New Hampshire's voters would be less likely to vote for Shaheen because of the decision. The anesthesiologists' society said the number actually should be 45%.
New Hampshire recently became the fifth state to exempt itself from Medicare rules requiring that physicians, usually anesthesiologists, supervise nurse anesthetists while they practice. Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska also have waived the rule.
Steven Hattamer, M.D., president of the 250-member New Hampshire/Vermont Society of Anesthesiology, said allowing nurse anesthetists to provide anesthesiology services without the supervision of a physician endangers patients. "This is not a turf battle -- it's purely and simply a patient-safety issue," Hattamer said. "Nurse anesthetists are great, but they don't know what they don't know."
Officials with the American Society of Anesthesiologists were not immediately available for comment.
The New Hampshire Hospital Association encouraged the governor to exercise the state's new option to exempt itself because about 10 hospitals in rural areas struggle to recruit highly paid anesthesiologists and depend on nurse anesthetists to provide anesthesiology services, Edy said. In a statement released at the news conference yesterday, the hospital association said, "Services at several of our rural hospitals would have to be shut down" if nurse anesthetists were not allowed to practice independently.
Not only hospitals, but also many physicians strongly supported Shaheen's decision, Edy said. Although the advertisements suggested doctors oppose the action, Edy said several hospitals have reported to the state association that the decision had the unanimous support of their medical staff. In fact, the chief of emergency medicine at two affiliated rural hospitals attended the press conference yesterday to lend support.
Still, the state medical society was among scores of medical associations that opposed HHS' decision this year to relax Medicare rules and let states choose for themselves whether supervision would be required.