CALGARY -- The provincial government has made the temporary changes to regulations governing the role of nurse practitioners in nursing homes permanent.

The move permits the certified health experts to diagnose and treat residents with health concerns or minor injuries.  Nurse practitioners will be allowed to make referrals, order lab tests and prescribe drugs in nursing homes, practices that were not permitted until the rules temporarily changed in early May in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We heard from nursing home operators that the changes introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic make a real difference," said Health Minister Tyler Shandro in a statement released Thursday. "That’s why our government is making the regulatory changes permanent and ensuring nursing home residents have better access to primary care going forward.

"Taking swift action to increase nursing home residents’ long-term access to care from nurse practitioners and other health-care providers is part of our promise to make life better for all Albertans, especially seniors and our most vulnerable."

Prior to Thursday's announcement on the permanency of the regulation change, the expanded role of nurse practitioners had been scheduled to end at the conclusion of the emergency health order or Aug. 14, whichever came first.

The approximately 300 registered nurses designated as nurse practitioners in Alberta have been allowed to perform their duties in hospitals, clinics or during home care but, prior to the regulation change, had restrictions placed on them in nursing homes.