Nurses are key component to health reform

April 9, 2011
Author: Maureen Keefe and Susan B. Hassmiller


Utah is facing a perfect storm of demographic, economic and geographic challenges that could threaten future health care for many residents. The state has both the highest birth rate in the country and ranks of elderly who may comprise 17 percent of the population by 2025.

More than one in six Utahns lack health insurance, and tens of thousands have limited access to care because they live in rural counties where providers and services are few.

For those of us who care deeply about improving the health of each resident, our mission is clear. We must strengthen Utah’s health care system and position it to meet these challenges. Our work must involve each of the health professions, plus the public and private sectors, but one group is especially key to success: the state’s 23,000 registered nurses.

Why nurses? As a landmark report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded last fall, nurses have a fundamental role in transforming U.S. health care. They constitute the largest sector of the country’s health care workforce and not only practice in hospitals, clinics and other facilities but in schools, community centers, businesses and homes. They provide the most direct patient care and are typically the most constant contact for patients’ families. And they focus on health promotion and disease prevention as much as treatment.

In the wake of the IOM report, a national initiative has launched to advance comprehensive health care change by enhancing nurses’ capabilities and fully utilizing their expertise and experience. The Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action is moving forward quickly. We intend to build on its momentum to make a real difference for all of Utah.

Without question, we’re going to push hard here for the interdisciplinary collaboration that is one of the campaign’s primary objectives. In every setting, patients benefit tremendously when doctors, nurses, therapists and other professionals work as true teams of providers, communicating and coordinating care, all contributing to the fullest extent of their education and training.

The team approach certainly gives nurses more voice than many feel they have today. Yet every other person on the team gains, too, because each has the opportunity to effect change where it’s needed most. And studies have demonstrated the team approach will positively impact the quality and safety of care.

The good news for our state is that members of our health care workforce are committed to working together. Proof of this is the Utah Regional Action Coalition for Health (URACH), a partnership of HealthInsight and the Utah Organization of Nurse Leaders that has an impressive breadth of support. Associated members: the University of Utah Health Sciences; Utah Department of Health, Utah Hospitals and Health Systems Administration, Intermountain Healthcare and the Utah Center for Rural Health.

All share a commitment to providing care to the underserved areas of our state. We’re extremely proud that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and AARP, the national initiative’s organizers, recently named URACH as one of 15 groups around the country to show the way during the first year of Campaign for Action.

But if we’re going to expect, even require, that doctors, nurses and other providers pull together to transform our health care system, so must many of us. The coalition will be expanding as its work accelerates, reaching out to engage legislators, educators, community advocates, business leaders, philanthropies and nonprofit organizations.

We hope that they, and you, will join in this important endeavor. It will be the ultimate collaboration, one that will mean higher quality care, expanded access, greater affordability and better health for every Utahn.

Maureen Keefe is dean and professor at the University of Utah School of Nursing, and Susan B. Hassmiller is the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Senior Adviser for Nursing.


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