CRNAs provide most rural anesthesia

Published 1:00 am Wednesday, January 23, 2019

For patients undergoing surgery, having a baby, or needing emergency treatment following a traumatic incident, odds are the hands-on anesthesia care essential to their comfort will be provided by a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA).

Such is the case at Andalusia Health, said Willie Furr, CRNA, DNP, and MSN.

Furr and Chris Blatz, DNP, CRNA are the owners of Community Anesthesia LLC, which provides services in partnership with Andalusia Health.

And while it might seem as if the trend toward having CRNAs provide anesthesia is new, the practice dates back to the American Civil War, where nurses first provided anesthesia, according to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists. That role continued to evolve, and CRNAs continue to be the primary providers of anesthesia care to U.S. military personnel on front lines, navy ships, and aircraft evacuation teams around the globe.

“Selma, which is also a LifePoint hospital, just moved to all CRNA anesthesia,” Furr said. “You will see that more and more and more. As health care changes, and we face more challenges, you’ll see doors open. There is a need to provide essential services, safely, and CRNAs are answering the call.”

CRNAs are the sole providers of anesthesia in nearly 100 percent of the rural hospitals, he said.

Furr serves as the vice president of the Alabama Association of Nurse Anesthetists board, and has lobbied in Alabama and in Washington for CRNAs to be able to provide essential anesthesia services.

“I’ve been able to speak to the challenges we face in our community, about health care, cost of health care, how to be part of the solution,” he said. “Our end goal is to remove all practice barriers, allowing CRNAs to practice to the fullest extent of our training.”

The current barriers to practice don’t change outcomes, he said, but they do increase costs.

At present, CRNAs are required to have a bachelor’s degree in nursing as a starting point.

“After that, they have to work in a critical care setting for at least one year,” Furr said. “The average is 2.9 years.

“Only after that can they apply to anesthesia school,” he said.

While becoming a CRNA currently requires a master’s degree, but 2022, CRNAs will be required to earn a doctorate.

Both Furr and Blatz have completed their doctorates, which required them to study the bigger picture of health care, including financial management of health care, Furr said.

Furr, who grew up on a dairy farm near Montgomery, said, “If I can do it, anybody can.”

He joined the U.S. Navy out of high school and trained to be a hospital corpsman. He worked in California, Cuba and Hawaii.

“In all of these different places, I was exposed to nurse anesthetists,” he said. “They were very welcoming in explaining the role, and what it took to be a CRNA.”

After five years in the military, he pursued a nursing degree at LBW and Troy, did critical care work in Montgomery and Dothan, and “kept an eye on the prize.”

When he talks to students now about the eight years it takes to complete the degree and experience requirements to become a CRNA, he encourages them to stay focused.

“No one gets there alone,” he said. “One of the biggest things we can do is give back. At the end of the day, this is who will replace us, and it’s important to nurture those people.”

Furr and Blatz are joined in their practice by Wade Bilger CRNA, Michel Thomason CRNA, and Julie Gay CRNA.

This is National CRNA Week.