Nurse Leaders and Allies Educate D.C. Policy-Makers about Nursing's Future

Nurses and other health leaders learn the art of strategic storytelling.

    • July 27, 2011

Nurse leaders and allies from other health professions gathered in the nation’s capital last month to talk to lawmakers and their staff about the groundbreaking report released last year by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) that is aimed at improving health and health care by transforming the nursing profession.

Twenty-five paired teams, each including one nurse leader and one other health leader—representing 25 states—spent the afternoon of June 21 and the morning of June 22 visiting the offices of more than 100 members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives. During the congressional visits, participants informed lawmakers and congressional staff about the report and sought support for its recommendations.

Called The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, the report includes recommendations for system improvements including proven, solutions-oriented ways to address the nursing and nurse faculty shortages in the United States. Many of the recommendations are not new, but together they create a blueprint for change and an opportunity for leaders and other stakeholders to work together around a common set of goals.

“This event really heightened awareness of the role nurses must play in transforming health care in America at the state level, and how on a national level too we need to transform the system so that every American has access to the care they need where and when they need it,” said Susan B. Hassmiller, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., the senior adviser for nursing at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). The Foundation is working in collaboration with AARP on the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action to implement the IOM report’s recommendations.

A key campaign strategy is to build relationships among leaders in government, business, academia, philanthropy and across the health care spectrum. To strengthen relationships with their congressional delegations, nurse and non-nurse leaders attended a workshop in Washington, D.C., where they learned the art of strategic storytelling and how to craft targeted requests for action.

“As a non-nurse, I was able to gain insights into the landscape of nursing I would not have been able to gain otherwise,” said participant Paul Putman, M.S.Ed., M.A., program officer at the Cleveland Foundation. “This program really did help me make connections not just with Washington but with dedicated professionals working in my state and in other states as well.”

Participants included 30 nurses and non-nurses involved in Action Coalitions—Campaign for Action groups that are pushing for nursing-related advances at the local, state and national levels—that are in place in 15 states. Twenty other activists from 10 additional states who have demonstrated significant involvement with the campaign also participated. The Campaign for Action will soon announce a new wave of Action Coalitions, and plans to have Action Coalitions in most states by the end of 2012.

The highlight of the workshop came when the 25 state teams met with more than 100 lawmakers and their staff in their offices on Capitol Hill. In addition, a “Leadership Team” attended meetings with professional staff of the House and Senate committees with primary jurisdiction over health and health care.

Leadership Team members included Hassmiller, John Lumpkin, M.D., M.P.H., senior vice president and director of the RWJF Health Care Practice; Kate Sullivan Hare, B.A., M.H.S.A., RWJF director of policy outreach and public affairs; Susan Reinhard, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., senior vice president of the AARP Public Policy Institute and chief strategist of the Center to Champion Nursing in America (CCNA), a joint initiative of AARP, the AARP Foundation and RWJF; and Sheila Burke, R.N., M.P.A., F.A.A.N., a nurse who served as chief of staff to former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas, was executive dean at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and currently chairs the Campaign for Action’s Advisory Committee.

Participants Ask Policy-Makers to Take Action in Support of the Campaign for Action

During their congressional visits, some participants requested that lawmakers author an op-ed in a local paper in support of a theme from the IOM report. Other common requests included asking a member of Congress to attend a meeting, conference or event in the state or district, or to delegate a staff member to serve as a liaison with a state Action Coalition.

State teams also asked members to take a variety of other actions such as joining a state Action Coalition; introducing an Action Coalition to stakeholders or convening a meeting with stakeholders; writing a letter of support to a coalition or to a relevant government agency; drafting an article for a state nurses association newsletter; speaking at an event in support of the campaign; submitting a statement to the Congressional Record; visiting a nursing school or health care provider; and hosting a nurse for a congressional office externship.

Early signs about the impact of the meetings are encouraging. Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) invited a participant from Pennsylvania to a health roundtable he held in his district; staff for Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) used her “auto-pen” to have her sign a pledge of support and assigned an aide to act as liaison to the Washington Action Coalition. And Senators John Barrasso and Michael Enzi, both Republicans from Wyoming, agreed to attend a nursing summit in their state this fall.

Before traveling to Washington, participants spoke with a Connect coach who helped them identify which lawmakers to meet with and develop strategies for their meetings. While in Washington, participants attended sessions on how to have effective meetings with members of Congress, how to maintain relationships with policy-makers and their staff, and how to follow through on requests.

Participants also learned how to avoid legal pitfalls by circumventing politically-charged issues and avoiding taking positions on pending legislation.

The Connect project is designed for RWJF grantees. RWJF invited activists involved with the Campaign for Action to a Connect event so they could benefit from proven ways to generate support for the campaign among state and federal lawmakers.

“For us to achieve the vision laid out in the IOM report, we need a cohesive strategy and a strong strategic connection between what is implemented at the state and national levels, and that provides an important connection in the real world,” Hassmiller said.

The Connect program aims to teach participants how to educate members of Congress about pressing health and health care issues, how to build lasting relationships with federal lawmakers, and to teach participants skills that they can use with other state and local audiences.

Members of Congress also benefit because they have the opportunity to learn about pressing health and health care concerns in their states and districts and about what local institutions and constituents are doing to solve health-related problems.

Margaret Wainwright Henbest, R.N., M.S.N., C.P.N.P., executive director of the Idaho Alliance of Leaders in Nursing, which is co-lead of the Idaho Nursing Action Coalition, described the congressional visits as “productive, targeted, and relevant.” Engaging Congress early in the campaign, she said, is important because there are some recommendations that must be addressed at the federal level. “It was a great experience.”

Learn more about RWJF’s Connect project.

No lobbying takes place as part of Connect activities. Like all private foundations, RWJF is generally prohibited from lobbying or otherwise attempting to influence legislation, and the use of its funds are similarly restricted. RWJF prohibits the use of grant funds for either lobbying or political campaign activities.