Nurses Share Experiences with Legislators During ONA Nurse Lobby Day
Nearly 300 nursing leaders filled the halls of Oregon’s State Capitol Building during ONA’s Nurse Lobby Day on February 19, 2013. They came together to discuss ONA’s Legislative Agenda, exchange information on health care policies and meet with legislators to advocate for the issues that matter most to nurses. These issues include supporting payment parity for nurse practitioners and physician assistants in primary care and mental health settings, investing Oregon’s Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (TMSA) in tobacco prevention, cessation and public health programs, and discussing safe nurse staffing.
The present and the future of nursing were represented, as both nurses and nursing students attended the event.
Michelle Schultz, a nursing student at Linfield College, learned a lot during her first Nurse Lobby Day.
“In school a lot of my experience with nursing comes from books and doesn’t include the legislative aspect,” Schultz said. “Learning about that side of things today was a real eye-opener and I want to get more involved.”
Schultz was part of a small group led by Jen Barr, RN, BSN, and Clarice Gerlach, RN, members of ONA’s Cabinet on Health Policy and Cabinet on Economic and General Welfare, respectively. Throughout the day, the group met with legislators and legislative staff representing Portland and Washington County.
Both legislative staff and legislators enjoyed discussing health care issues with their constituents and asking for their input.
“The staffers were very receptive and asked great questions. They seemed to have a good idea of what their legislator would support,” Gerlach said.
“One of the representatives asked us if we used Tobacco Master Settlement funds to pay for public health programs, what other programs’ funding would we change,” Barr said. “He raised some difficult questions and it resulted in a great discussion about public health.”
“We pointed out that there has to be a way to invest in programs that result in long-term rewards, like investing the TMSA in the tobacco prevention, cessation and public health programs it was meant to support. It was great to have a chance to talk about both health policy and the return we can get by investing in public health early,” Gerlach said.
While legislator meetings and Capitol tours filled the afternoon’s agenda, participants spent the morning learning about ONA’s legislative priorities and getting updates on important health care issues.
The event began at the Micah Building across the street from the Capitol with talks from ONA President Steve Rooney, RN, and OSNA Vice President Jesse Kennedy about the present and future of nursing.
Senate President Peter Courtney, the most veteran member of Oregon’s legislature and a six-time Friend of Nursing award winner, also spoke to nursing leaders about how his own medical experiences helped him realize the value of nurses firsthand.
"Nurses are very much the backbone of the health care system. You are the glue,” Courtney said.
The audience of nurses and nursing students appreciated his message of support.
“Usually our biggest legislative supporters have a direct connection to health care. It’s great to hear from someone who isn’t directly connected to the field of health care who understands the importance of ONA and what nurses do,” Barr said. “A lot of the things President Courtney identified as reasons he supports nurses’ work, are the same reasons we got into nursing to begin with, so it’s great to hear that our work is appreciated.”
Nurses were also given updates on ONA’s legislative agenda and payment parity for nurse practitioners and physician assistants in primary care and mental health settings, Oregon’s Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement Proposal and safe nurse staffing.
After small group discussions and a lunch break, participants headed across the street to the Capitol to meet with their elected representatives.
Nursing leaders met with Senators, Representatives and staff from more than 80 legislative districts, meeting with representatives from nearly every district in both the Oregon House of Representatives and Senate.
Nurses sharing their firsthand experiences with legislators and staff was one of the most unique and powerful portions of Lobby Day.
“When we spoke to our legislators about tobacco prevention and cessation, I shared my experiences working with long-time tobacco users on the medical oncology unit,” said April Mar, a CNA at Portland Providence Medical Center and nursing student at Clackamas Community College. “It’s not a good way to go and we need to find ways to stop people from using tobacco and becoming addicted in the first place.”
Being able to share their experiences with legislators and other attendees and meet nurses and students from their district were some of the most valuable experiences many nurses and nursing students took away from Nurse Lobby Day.
“It was great to meet more nurses in my area and get positive feedback from our members about the direction ONA is going,” Barr said.
Hopefully Nurse Lobby Day inspires changes in legislators and nursing leaders.
“In the hospital setting I take it upon myself to institute change, so I was happy to take this opportunity to learn more about the legislative aspect and see what positive changes we can make,” Mar said.