In the 1980s, statewide nursing organizations came together in Florida to form the Quality and Unity in Nursing (QUIN) council, which works to identify and promote a shared nursing agenda, facilitate communication among nurses and others, and build support for the profession. The Sunshine State is also home to the Florida Center for Nursing (FCN), which has been collecting data since 2002 about the state’s nursing workforce.
In 2009, the FCN teamed up with the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida (BCBSF) Foundation to spearhead a project to enhance access to nursing education. The BCBSF Foundation received a grant from Partners Investing in Nursing’s Future, a project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the Northwest Health Foundation, to promote the use of simulation technology in nurse education.
Providing matching funds, the BCBSF Foundation subcontracted with the FCN to determine if the use of simulation could help address the nursing shortage through education program expansion and better retention of experienced nurses.
Following years of successful partnership and collaboration, BCBSF Foundation Vice President Susan Towler, BS, APR, and FCN Executive Director Mary Lou Brunell, RN, MSN, are working as co-leads of the Florida Action Coalition (FL-AC) to advance the health of Floridians.
The FL-AC is a group of nurses and nurse champions who are helping to implement recommendations from the report, Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, which was released in 2010 by the Institute of Medicine (IOM). It is part of the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action, a collaborative effort of AARP, the AARP Foundation, and RWJF that seeks to implement the IOM recommendations nationwide. The FL-AC received official status as an Action Coalition in March, 2011.
The FCN and the BCBSF Foundation continued their partnership—but broadened their ambitions—when they became co-leads of the FL-AC in 2011. To prioritize strategies, the FL-AC distributed a survey asking nurses across the state and from all employment settings to rank the IOM goals for the state. After tallying the results, Brunell and Towler convened a steering committee of nurse and non-nurse leaders, held conference calls and a strategic planning session to determine messaging and strategy, and created four action teams to focus on practice, education, data collection, and leadership. The FL-AC also created a website to facilitate communication and, with the BCBSF Foundation’s leadership, is participating in a two-day summit this fall.
Specifically, the FL-AC aims to double the percentage of employed registered nurses who have earned baccalaureate or higher degrees; promote nurse leaders and identify leadership opportunities for nurses; enable nurses to practice to the full extent of their education and experience; and educate health providers, elected leaders, other stakeholders, and the public about the practice of nursing and the role nurses can play in the redesign of the nation’s health care system.
The Action Coalition’s work is premised on the belief that data on nursing as well as other health professions is needed to determine access to primary care services. The FCN continues to explore potential funding opportunities to expand its workforce data collection, analysis, and reporting to include relevant health professions. An essential part of all the FL-AC’s work is its mission to enhance diversity in the profession and cultivate interprofessional education and collaboration.
“We are working to coordinate the many efforts already underway to address the IOM’s recommendations, identify resources to support the work and partners to collaborate with,” said Towler. “We are also in the process of developing an evaluation effort to monitor our progress. With the FCN’s data, baselines can be identified and metrics to measure success will be in place for nursing. This best practice model can be implemented for all critical health professions.”
There are some significant obstacles in the FL-AC’s path, not least of which is the state’s size. Florida is the fourth most populous state and is home to some 200 hospitals and 800 home health care agencies, Brunell said. “We have several hundred thousand nurses in the state,” she said. “Communicating with all of them is next to impossible.”
Florida’s population skews older, which puts extra demands on nurses and threatens to exacerbate looming nurse shortages. And the state has some of the most restrictive laws in the country with regard to nurse practitioners. “There have been efforts to modify those for nearly 20 years,” said Brunell. “It’s not something we’re going to be able to address quickly.”
Still, Brunell is confident that change is on the way. “We can achieve progress, and I think we definitely will.”