National Nurses United

Registered Nurse April 2009

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RNs in Office:2 4/22/09 5:47 PM Page 15 Albany was recognized as the greenest city in California by a University of California Los Angeles Green Market Geography study. But Lieber is most proud of his protection of public health when, in 2008, he helped lead his city's successful campaign to lobby the state to stop aerial spraying of controversial apple moth pesticides over Albany and the San Francisco Bay Area. In place of the pesticides, Albany adopted a program called integrated pest management, an organic way to control the winged pests. Max Anderson, an RN also working at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center and a member of the Berkeley City Council, is attuned to the role government can play in bridging inequalities among patients in healthcare. "My education and experience as an RN has helped me to play an important role in shaping policies toward health disparities between African Americans and Latino communities and the more affluent white population," he said. As an RN, he helped push to open in 2007 a drop-in hypertension clinic for the southern and western areas of the city. As at the bedside, RNs holding office sometimes have to make hard choices. In 2007, Rogers had a difficult vote to make. The giant hospital corporation Sutter Health agreed to build a new hospital to replace the one that it was operating for the district, but wanted as part of the agreement for the board to step down from governance of the medical center. Rogers was the lone voice on the board publicly criticizing Sutter for trying to shut out public governance of a community institution. "I got a phone call every other day from [State Senator] Ellen Corbett," said Rogers. "Ellen told me there were a lot of times she was the only no vote and it was okay." In the end, Rogers was the only board member to vote against the contract with Sutter. Once in office, RNs can also be in a position to help the profession. Tim Driscoll, the RN member of the Maine House of Representatives, is involved along with several other RN legislators in policymaking that impacts healthcare at the state level. This year, Driscoll introduced a bill to increase funding for nursing programs. "We have a large wait list of people wanting to get into these nursing programs," noted Driscoll. "It's the unavailability of faculty and space that prevents them from getting into the program. It's a nationwide problem and it's only going to get worse as people are living longer with better quality of lives." Driscoll participates in a state healthcare workforce committee that includes individuals from academia, nursing schools, community colleges, physician groups, dental groups, and hospital administrators. The committee assesses how to best provide for healthcare needs in Maine. "I felt like I should be involved and if there are things that need to be moved ahead legislatively, I can help focus on them in the House," said Driscoll. The only problem with RNs in office is that there aren't more of them. If RNs want to achieve their goal of seeing guaranteed healthcare for every American and developing healthy communities, in every sense of the word, they will have to start campaigning to take their rightful places in healthcare district boardrooms, city halls, state legislatures, and at the U.S. Capitol. "It's a lot of responsibility," acknowledged Anderson. "But I had to put it into perspective. Taking care of people is a lot of responsibility, too." I "When you go to work as an elected official on a board, the entire community is your patient," said Rogers. "When they talk about infection control, standards of care, things of that genre, you have a ground-floor experience." Charlene Anderson, a San Diego RN, recently won a seat on the Tri-City Hospital District board. CHARLENE ANDERSON PHOTO: SHALANA POHLMAN O f course, registered nurses bring a valuable, muchneeded perspective on public health and the healthcare system to political office. Just as a case management or home health RN may consider the totality of socioeconomic and cultural factors at play – not just medical condition – while developing a care plan for a patient, nurses in office tend to look at the big picture as well. "When you go to work as an elected official on a board, the entire community is your patient," said Rogers. "When they talk about infection control, standards of care, things of that genre, you have a ground-floor experience." Robert Lieber understands that well. Lieber, an RN at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, was first elected in 2004 to the city council of Albany, Calif. on an environmental platform and has subsequently served two terms as mayor. Early in his service on the council, a corporation had plans to build a mega-mall on the San Francisco Bay waterfront, a picturesque area in Albany. Lieber believed the mall would have contributed more pollution and a lower quality of life for Albany residents. "It would have increased traffic in the area," says Lieber. "Why would you put a mall there? It's insane." Lieber, along with community groups such as the Sierra Club, successfully blocked the large-scale mall development plan. During his tenure as mayor, APRIL 2009 Sarah Clark is an Oakland-based writer and political activist. W W W. C A L N U R S E S . O R G REGISTERED NURSE 15

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