Utah Action Coalition for Health Focuses on Seamless Educational Progression, Nursing Residency Programs, and More

Working closely with partners, the Action Coalition is strengthening the nursing profession in Utah.

    • December 6, 2012

The Utah Action Coalition for Health is off and running with its campaign to advance reforms recommended in the Institute of Medicine's landmark Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health report. According to Utah Action Coalition leaders, the effort builds on a strong tradition of collaboration in the state's nursing community, and is powered by the active participation of non-nursing partners and the support of the state government.

"In Utah, we had solid statewide collaboration and conversation to start with," says Maureen Keefe, RN, PhD, FAAN, dean of the University of Utah College of Nursing, board member of the Utah Organization of Nurse Leaders, and co-lead of the Utah Action Coalition for Health. "Our real strength flowed from that collaboration. We already had nursing practice and service in the state in dialogue with nursing education."

Action Coalition leaders reached out to a non-nursing partner, HealthInsight, a nonprofit, community-based organization working to improve health and health care in Utah, Nevada, and New Mexico. The organization runs a series of projects focused on specific health care challenges, including transparency of health care quality, adoption of health information technologies, aligning financial incentives with quality and improvement goals, upgrading Medicare quality, and more.

"We went to HealthInsight cold, frankly, and asked if they wanted to partner with us. It's been a great partnership that has just blossomed and blossomed," Keefe says.

Juliana Preston, MPA, executive director of HealthInsight, joined Keefe as a co-lead of the state effort. Preston says she saw the partnership as an opportunity. "It's important for non-nursing organizations, such as HealthInsight, to participate because we can convene the entire health care community with the goal of improving the health care system as a whole," she explains. "Our knowledge and expertise of the system and stakeholders add to the detailed focus of the nurse leadership organizations. Together, we are poised to create innovative and realistic solutions to improve health care."

Other key players in the Utah Action Coalition include the Utah Organization of Nurse Leaders, AARP Utah, the state's Department of Health, and representatives of rural communities, health care delivery systems, and the long-term care community. In addition, the Utah Medical Education Council is on board, providing data workforce analysis in collaboration with the state's board of nursing.

Taking the Pulse

The Action Coalition's first step was to identify priorities from among the various recommendations in the Future of Nursing report. Determined to get a broad-based assessment, Action Coalition leaders "conducted focus groups and surveys," Keefe says, "aimed at ranking the IOM recommendations in order of priority, feasibility and interest." That process yielded five top priorities for work in the state:

·         Improve educational progression for nurses, to meet the goals of doubling the number of nurses with doctorates and increasing to 80 percent the share of nurses with baccalaureate degrees by 2020;

·         Implement nurse residency programs, to create a transition-to-practice program for certified nurses;

·         Remove barriers to practice, to allow nurses to practice to the full extent of their education and training;

·         Develop nursing leaders, to create opportunities for nurses to take lead roles in health care organizations; and

·         Collaborate to design new models of community-based care, to meet the growing need for affordable, quality health care.

Up and Running

Since its launch in early 2011, the Action Coalition has registered a number of important accomplishments. Among the most significant, Keefe says, was developing a partnership and securing funding from the Utah Cluster Acceleration Partnership (UCAP), a state-funded program to align higher education with industry to trigger job creation and economic growth. UCAP's efforts in the health care sector are focused on nursing, Keefe says, so the Action Coalition has worked closely with it in three areas: developing nursing residency programs, creating a nursing certificate and master's program for care management, and expanding clinical learning opportunities for nursing students. The aim is to give nurses the additional experience of working in settings beyond acute care hospitals, including home care, long-term acute care, nursing homes and elsewhere. All three areas have been approved for UCAP funding.

In addition, the deans and education directors at all of the state's nursing schools have agreed to work together to review articulation agreements, with the goal of creating a seamless transition between associate degree and baccalaureate nursing programs. The group is also examining the capacity of baccalaureate nursing programs to make sure that enough slots will be available for future nursing students.

The Right Moment

These and other efforts of the Utah Action Coalition for Health come at an opportune moment, Keefe says. "There's a real opportunity here, because of health care reform. The timing of this, together with the Affordable Care Act, really opens doors for us. For example, at the governor's health reform summit in September, nurses were involved in the conversation in a way we haven’t been before. So I think there’s a real window of opportunity for us."

Preston agrees. "Utah values the quality of health care delivered to its residents, and we recognize the vital role that nurses play in the health care system. We're committed to looking for innovative solutions to achieving the triple aim: better health, better care and lower cost."

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