Championing Nurses in Health Care Reform

    • February 5, 2009

As the Obama administration and Congress prepare to tackle health care reform, a new champion for nurses is working to ensure that nurses’ voices are part of the debate and that policy-makers recognize that nursing issues are key to successful reform.

Launched last year as an unprecedented partnership between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, AARP and the AARP Foundation, the Center to Champion Nursing in America is amplifying the voices of nurses and making strides in addressing the nurse and nursing faculty shortages, which must be resolved if health care reform is to improve access to quality care for all Americans.

A consumer-driven, national organization, the Center is starting its second year by intensifying its work to ensure that our country has the nurses it needs to care for every patient, now and in the future. The Center’s priorities are to address our nation’s capacity to educate and retain nurses—priorities policy-makers must address as they consider how to advance reform.

“The Center is playing a crucial role in educating policy-makers about the importance of nursing,” said Susan Hassmiller, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., senior adviser for nursing for RWJF. “Nurses know the role that we play in improving patient safety and quality of care, but the Center’s ability to reach out to consumers, providers and businesses will help us get our message out and strengthen our case.”

To help persuade stakeholders that addressing the shortages should be a major component of health care reform, the Center will establish a national coalition of groups representing consumers, businesses, health care providers and others with a stake in solving the nursing shortage. Members, including Verizon and Kaiser Permanente, will educate members of Congress, staffers and policy-makers about the importance of including the nursing and nurse faculty shortages in health care reform discussions.

Early this summer, in partnership with a leading policy journal Health Affairs, the Center to Champion Nursing in America will publish a series of papers and convene a forum on health care reform and the nursing shortage. The first papers will be available soon at http://content.healthaffairs.org. The conference will focus on the central role that nurses must play in health care reform and on nursing solutions that promote quality care.

“We believe that nurses will be the lynchpin of efforts to make more efficient use of our health care resources,” said John Rother, AARP executive vice president for policy and strategy. “Their role will be critical to doing a better job of managing chronic conditions, where costs are a particular problem.”

The Center is also working across the country to identify and support efforts to stem the nursing and nursing faculty shortages now. In partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Health Resources and Services Administration (part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), the Center has identified teams that have created diverse coalitions involving key stakeholders in 18 states. They are developing innovative, creative solutions to increase the nursing education capacity in their states. The Center is providing each team with technical assistance around coalition building, partnerships, advocacy and communications.

“There is strong interest in nursing careers, and high demand for nurses,” said Director Brenda L. Cleary, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N. “The bottleneck is in the middle, in the education system, which isn’t able to educate all the people who want to enter the field and all the nurses we need. With baby boomers aging, the demand for nurses is only going to increase, which is why we’re working so hard to eliminate that bottleneck.”

The Center is also providing technical assistance in Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin. Twelve more states will be added next year.

For more information on the Center to Champion Nursing in America, visit its Web site at www.championnursing.org  and watch for a re-launch of the site in early 2009.