Rosalee Yeaworth with LB 439 sponsors Senators Mark Kolterman and Anna Wishart (right).

Rosalee Yeaworth knows a thing or two about completing a marathon.

About 18 years ago, the AARP Nebraska Executive Council volunteer  began the long road to change a state law that prevents assisted living (AL) staff nurses from providing needed care to residents.

Yeaworth, a former dean of the UNMC College of Nursing, was shocked to discover this restriction on registered nurses’ professional practice after placing her husband in memory care at a new assisted living facility only minutes from her home.

“As soon as I learned about the law, I started trying to change it, and to require RNs to be in charge of memory care units with their vulnerable people with dementia,” she said.

During her husband’s time in memory care, he had pneumonia and two urinary tract infections requiring hospitalization. As a registered nurse herself, Yeaworth recognized his condition, while the AL staff did not.

“I am personally aware of two individuals who died unnecessarily because they didn’t have the benefit of an RN’s judgment,” she told the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee earlier this year.

“I learned that not only did the law not require any RNs, even in memory care units, but it essentially prevented an RN who was hired by the facility from practicing and performing any ‘complex nursing intervention.’ That’s merely any intervention which requires nursing judgment to modify a procedure. Any professional who can’t use their judgment can’t practice.”

Supporters of LB 439 with Gov. Pete Ricketts at the bill signing ceremony.

On April 26, Yeaworth’s determination to remove this barrier was realized when Gov. Pete Ricketts signed LB 439 into law. Bill sponsors Sens. Mark Kolterman and Anna Wishart steered the measure through the Legislature with little opposition.

Come July 2018, AL facilities with RNs will be allowed to provide a limited number of hours of nursing care each month. (The new law permits, but does not require, AL facilities to make this change). LB 439 also requires AL facilities to disclose in writing whether this brief nursing care is available to residents.

Yeaworth credits former AARP Nebraska advocacy director Mark Intermill for his persistence and patience in working with different interest groups to remove the restrictions on nursing practice in assisted living.

“People should not have to be moved to a nursing home to get a few hours of intermittent nursing care,” she said.

Passage of LB 439 was one of AARP Nebraska’s top legislative priorities in 2018.