Georgia Action Coalition Sows Nursing Campaign Seeds in Rocky Terrain

    • March 23, 2012

Transforming the nursing profession in Georgia is like growing peaches in Alaska. It’s not exactly the most hospitable climate for nurse-led changes to health and health care.

But that hasn’t stopped an intrepid group of nurse and other leaders in Georgia from working to transform the nursing profession and, in so doing, improve health and health care in the state.

They’re tilling a rocky field. The state—with the backing of organized medicine—has placed tight limits on the ability of nurses to practice to the full extent of their training and abilities, nurse leaders say. In addition, there is no state center that provides reliable data on the nursing workforce. And building momentum for any kind of statewide campaign is tough in a state as large and diverse as Georgia.

Still, signs of success are beginning to sprout. The Georgia Nurses Association has been very focused on nursing legislation during this year’s legislative session. The group’s priorities include passing a bill that would remove a barrier preventing advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) from ordering radiological images and one that would provide funding to support nursing workforce data collection.

Georgia nurse leaders are also working with area nursing schools to create a common core of prerequisite courses so that associate-level nurses can move more easily into baccalaureate programs. And there’s more good news: The coalition may receive Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) funding to help advance nurse education in the state.

The effort “has been an extremely positive thing for nursing in Georgia,” said Lisa Eichelberger, DSN, RN, dean and professor of nursing at Clayton State University. “It has been so gratifying to see nurses really come together to bring about change.”

A Quick Start

The effort—now officially known as the Georgia Nursing Leadership Coalition—has its roots in a summit that followed the release of a groundbreaking report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) on the future of nursing. Called The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, the report laid out a strategy to transform the nursing profession to ensure that all Americans have access to high-quality, patient-centered care in a health care system where nurses contribute as essential partners.

Back home in Georgia, hundreds of allies gathered together at venues across the state to watch the event remotely. Nursing leaders across the state quickly formed a coalition to begin implementing the recommendations in the report. Within just a few months, the group had organized its own summit on the future of nursing that was attended by some 400 supporters, including the state’s commissioner of labor.

“We did it very quickly and we raised quite a bit of money,” Eichelberger said.

In the year since, the coalition has solidified. In September, it was named an Action Coalition by the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action, a collaborative effort of AARP, the AARP Foundation and RWJF 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.

The Georgia Action Coalition is led by an executive committee and a leadership council. Eight workgroups, meanwhile, are tackling each of the report’s eight major recommendations. Key partners include AARP, the Georgia Hospital Association and Georgia Health Care Foundation.

The coalition’s top priorities—gleaned from a survey of summit attendees—include removing scope-of-practice barriers, increasing the number of nurses with baccalaureate and doctoral degrees and building a base of state-level nursing workforce data.

Despite the difficult terrain, Georgia’s nurse leaders are confident about the campaign’s prospects. One advantage: “Over the years we have had a number of exceptional nurse leaders from Georgia hold positions at the national level,” said Debbie Hatmaker, PhD, RN-BC, SANE-A,, chief programs officer of the Georgia Nurses Association and the immediate-past president of the American Nurses Credentialing Center. “They often bring their leadership skills and national perspectives back to our state efforts to improve nursing and health care.”

“That diversity helps us to learn from the other states,” added Karen Waters, MBA, MHA, senior vice president of the Georgia Hospital Association. “It helps challenge the status quo and makes us think of how we can do things better.”

Those ties, she said, will help the coalition reach its longer-term goals: defining its strategic goals, creating a business plan, raising money to sustain the campaign and engaging more community partners. “We really need to broaden our scope and involve groups that are not typically focused on nursing. That’s really going to be a major push in the next year.”