Wisconsin Leaders Team Up With Strong Allies to Transform Nursing Profession

Wisconsin Action Coalition makes headway in first year of existence.

    • August 29, 2012

Wisconsin nurse leaders have a powerful weapon in their campaign to transform health care through nursing: Donna Shalala, a passionate advocate for nurses and a well-known health leader in the Badger State and across the nation.

Shalala, PhD, FAAN, the former chancellor of the University of Wisconsin in Madison and former head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, chaired the Committee on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Initiative on the Future of Nursing at the Institute of Medicine (IOM). That was the two-year effort that culminated in a groundbreaking report that outlined a strategy to transform nursing in order to improve health and health care.

When the report was released, Shalala helped launch the initiative to implement it in Wisconsin. She delivered a keynote address at the University of Wisconsin at Madison School of Nursing when the report was released in the fall of 2010, according to Barbara Pinekenstein, RN, MSN, president of the board of directors of the Wisconsin Center for Nursing (WCN). Pinekenstein is also vice president of clinical informatics at ProHealth Care, a community-based health care system in Waukesha, Wis.

Shalala is not the only good thing going for the Wisconsin Action Coalition, a group of nurse and non-nurse leaders working to implement the IOM report’s recommendations in the state. They have found willing allies in and outside of nursing including: the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative, a network of nearly three dozen health systems in the state; state agencies such as the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services; the Wisconsin Organization of Nurse Executives; the Administrators of Nursing Education; AARP Wisconsin; and the Faye McBeath Foundation, a charitable organization in southeastern Wisconsin that provided a start-up grant for the Action Coalition’s activities.

Coalition leaders are also working with the Wisconsin Healthcare Workforce Data Collaborative to assess the supply and demand for nurses and other health professionals in the state. When it comes to data collection, in fact, Wisconsin is a trendsetter, said Judith Hansen, MS, BSN, RN, executive director of WCN and co-lead of the Wisconsin Action Coalition. Legislation was enacted in 2009 in the state that requires mandatory surveys with nursing licensure renewals, and WCN is analyzing and disseminating reports on the data.

These efforts send “a strong message statewide about how important it is to collect data to assure an adequate, competent and diverse nursing workforce to meet the needs of the people of Wisconsin,” said Hansen.

Together, these partnerships have helped the Wisconsin Action Coalition make progress in its first year of official existence.

The Coalition began to take shape some two years ago, even before the IOM report was released. At that time, WCN was asked to take the lead on implementing the IOM report recommendations in their state. Hansen and other nurse leaders then invited the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative to serve as their main non-nursing partner, and got a quick and willing ‘Yes.’

In May of 2011, just six months later, the Wisconsin Center for Nursing held a statewide conference focusing on key messages from the IOM Report and the work to transform nursing. The organization was officially recognized as an Action Coalition four months after that. Action Coalitions are in place in every state and are the driving force behind the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action, coordinated through the Center to Champion Nursing in America (CCNA), an initiative of AARP, the AARP Foundation, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Defining a Mission

The first order of business for the Wisconsin Action Coalition was to define its mission.

Participants decided to emphasize three main pillars, in the areas of leadership, practice and education. They also identified two additional focus areas, diversity and data, that cut across all their work. “What we’re finding so often is that we all have the same goals in mind,” Hansen explained. “We’re not really separating these into neatly compacted little chunks. We’re using one goal to inform and support and strengthen the other.”

The Action Coalition then organized a series of regional meetings throughout the state and worked to raise awareness about the IOM report, the Campaign for Action and the Action Coalition itself. Leaders created an Action Coalition webpage on the Wisconsin Center for Nursing website and on Facebook, and published an article about the campaign in Nursing Matters, a statewide nursing publication.

The Action Coalition held its second annual conference in June, 2012. Presentations and breakout sessions emphasized interprofessional collaboration, educational advancement, scope of practice, and other initiatives underway in Wisconsin to address IOM recommendations. National health care and nursing experts including Alan Morgan, MPA, CEO of the National Rural Health Association and a member of the strategic advisory committee of the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action, delivered presentations at the conference. More than 200 people attended, representing a diverse cross-section of the state. WCN had recently completed reports on nursing and education surveys in the state, and these reports were woven throughout the conference agenda and breakout sessions.

The Action Coalition also held a meeting hosted by AARP Wisconsin and state nursing and non-nursing leaders to enhance engagement, feedback and strategic planning. Winifred Quinn, MA, PhD, director of legislation and field operations at CCNA, delivered a presentation about the campaign to key stakeholders at the meeting.

One of the Action Coalition’s biggest accomplishments to date is the alignment of the work of implementing the IOM recommendations with the WCN strategic plan to ensure that the state has an adequate workforce to meet current and future health care needs. The climate created by the Action Coalition to create awareness of the IOM recommendations has also strengthened two pre-existing programs—a three-day program for emerging nurse leaders and a nurse-residency program.

The Action Coalition’s efforts also helped the CEO of St. Mary’s Hospital System in Madison to work with their foundation to launch a scholarship program to help associate-degree nurses attain baccalaureate degrees. He also appointed the first registered nurse to the system’s clinical leadership team, as a result of reading the IOM report.

The WCN created and is leading a statewide diversity task force, which has helped to assess promising practices to enhance nursing diversity and implement the IOM report recommendations. The task force is conducting environmental scans of Wisconsin diversity initiatives and grounding its work in an extensive literature review on diversity practices.

Wisconsin Action Coalition members are also active in regional learning collaboratives, which focus on academic progression and scope of practice.

“Although many of the initiatives in Wisconsin began before the release of the IOM report,” Hansen said, “the opportunity to network and share best practices because of support received from the national campaign and RWJF have provided tremendous resources to transform and implement strategies for long-term success in our state.”