Louisiana Nurse Leaders Score Major ‘Challenge’ Grant

State Action Coalition builds momentum toward goals of transforming nursing profession and improving health and health care in Louisiana.

    • September 27, 2012

Earlier this year, the Louisiana Action Coalition—a group of nurse and other health leaders working to transform the nursing profession and improve health and health care in their state—held panel discussions about the critical role nurses can play in a reformed health care system.

At one, a member of the audience was so moved that he stood up, made a public call for donations to the Coalition, and passed a brown envelope around the audience as if it were a collection plate at a religious service.

Participants responded with enthusiasm, donating more than $4,000—a sum that jump-started the Action Coalition’s campaign to meet a one-year fundraising goal of $150,000. If they are able to raise that amount, the Rapides Foundation, an area health philanthropy that aims to improve health in central Louisiana, has announced that it will provide a matching grant of $150,000, which would put the young Coalition well on its way to sustainability.

"We are grateful for the tremendous support of the Rapides Foundation,” said Cynthia Bienemy, PhD, RN, director of the Louisiana Center for Nursing and co-lead of the Future of Nursing in Louisiana: Campaign for Action, also known as the Louisiana Action Coalition. “Not only have they provided a generous challenge grant, but they have shown visionary leadership as our partner on the Action Coalition’s core leadership team."

“It was amazing how nurses and nurse champions really wanted to participate and make sure we meet that grant,” added Denise Bottcher, BS, communications director of AARP Louisiana and co-lead of the Louisiana Action Coalition. The message about the important role nurses can play in a reformed health care system, she said, is resonating with people from backgrounds beyond nursing. “The person who made this plea for donations wasn’t a nurse, he was a health care consumer,” Bienemy said. “But he understood the important role nurses can play in improving our health care system.”

Beset by Challenges

The challenge grant came as big news for the Louisiana Action Coalition, which is taking on the difficult task of transforming the nursing profession and improving health and health care in a state beset by challenges.

Louisiana has one of the worst records on health care outcomes in the nation, faces what could become a severe shortage of primary care physicians, does not allow advanced practice registered nurses to practice to the full extent of their education and training due to regulatory and institutional barriers, and is dealing with other social challenges in areas such as economic vitality, crime and governance.

And the state has seen more than its share of natural and man-made disasters in recent years. Coalition leaders, based in Southeast Louisiana, were forced to evacuate their offices recently to prepare for the possibility of flooding and storm damage from Hurricane Isaac.

But nurse leaders and their allies remain undaunted. In the fall of 2010, after the release of a groundbreaking report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) on the future of nursing, the Louisiana State Board of Nursing (LSBN), the Louisiana Center for Nursing (LCN), AARP Louisiana, and three Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Executive Nurse Fellows in the state came together with other nurse leaders and stakeholders to form the core leadership team for what would soon become the Louisiana Action Coalition. 

The Louisiana Action Coalition was officially formed in March, 2011, and is now part of the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action, which aims to implement solutions to the challenges facing the nursing profession and to build upon nurse-based approaches to improving quality and transforming the way Americans receive health care. A collaborative effort of AARP, the AARP Foundation and RWJF, the Campaign seeks to implement recommendations in the IOM report, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health.

Led by Bienemy and Bottcher, the Louisiana Action Coalition consists of a governing board and a leadership team comprised of nurses and nursing champions such as the Louisiana State Nurses Association, the Louisiana Council of Administrators of Nursing Education, the Louisiana Organization of Nurse Executives, the Rapides Foundation, the Nursing Supply and Demand Council, and the Louisiana Hospital Association. It has identified five goals: to advance interprofessional collaboration, improve health care workforce data collection, expand nurse leadership ranks, strengthen nurse education and training, and enable nurses to practice to the full extent of their education and training.

Since its official formation, Action Coalition leaders have held a two-day strategic planning summit with about two dozen participants, reached out to potential donors at a funders meeting, and built their brand with a new logo and a set of talking points. They have also educated stakeholders and others via presentations to a wide range of audiences such as the Louisiana Health Care Quality Forum, the 2012 Nursing Summit, and the Louisiana Association of Student Nurses.

The next step is to hire a campaign coordinator to engage the public, recruit volunteers, and educate consumers, policy-makers and thought leaders. Action Coalition leaders also plan to build stronger relationships with people in the medical community and to form more partnerships with potential allies such as the Chamber of Commerce, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Target.

The Coalition is starting to build real momentum, Bienemy said. “Many pioneers and trailblazers have had conversations about transforming the nursing profession before, but now is the time to move forward. Louisiana has a history of being at the bottom of the list in terms of health and health care outcomes, but we see the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action as an opportunity to take a leading role in improving health care in our state.”