ASNA In Action: The Year of The Nurse

by John C. Ziegler MA. D. MIN, ASNA Executive Director

Late last year, the American Nurses Association announced that its theme for 2020 would be; “2020 The Year of the Nurse.” Appropriately, 2020 also commemorated the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth. When the theme was introduced, who could have imagined that 2020 would indeed be the “Year of the Nurse” for an entirely different reason?

By January, numerous celebrations and special events were well into the planning stages when a strange new flu emerged on the other side of the globe. COVID-19 would take center stage in highlighting the professionalism, dedication, and bravery of nurses around the world! With all due respect, the 200th anniversary of Florence’s birth would hardly make the news. Instead, our TVs were saturated with nurses dressed head to toe in PPE risking all for the patients infected by the mysterious, often deadly virus. Organizations, in response to the rising pandemic, began canceling physical meetings and events and communicating “virtually.” ASNA was no different.

We did, however, hold one event in February that was the best ever: Nurses Day at the Capitol. In early February 2020, more than 700 nurses and nursing students filled two auditoriums and after their education sessions came together to “rally” on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol. As was our tradition, speakers from other coalition nursing organizations joined public officials and ASNA Officers in addressing the crowd. The media covered the event widely. That day was the final large gathering for ASNA in 2020. COVID-19 presented itself center stage in late February and early March. Subsequently, the Alabama Legislature had a short session. Our annual FACES event in April was canceled and May Nurses Week celebrations went “virtual.” ASNA advocacy efforts were primarily directed toward COVID-19 issues, full practice authority strategy, and taking a strong stand against division and racial disparities in our country.

Promoting Ethical Standards

We developed our C-19 Response Strategy from what we learned through a survey we distributed in mid-April. More than 1600 nurses responded to the survey and added over 200 pages of single-spaced comments! We published the survey results in a huge centerfold spread in the Alabama Nurse and sent letters with the results to every Alabama federal and state official! One Senator and one Congresswoman gave us a private 30-minute conference call to discuss the issues. Additionally, ASNA applied for funding from the 1.8 billion CARES Act federal aid to Alabama for COVID relief. Every week, ASNA would directly communicate with officials with the Governor’s office on the status of our requests. They were kind enough to say they were studying it, but at the time of this writing – no response!

Throughout the summer of 2020, ASNA was at the table with the Alabama Department of Education regarding a “School Reopening Plan.” We were told by the Alabama Department of Public Health that due to COVID-19 and other factors, they had a large number of retirements and were in dire need of hiring nurses to fill those positions. We spent many, many hours working with our federal and state officials and though our input was important, nothing concrete was applied. The “power players” in the state have received many millions from the Governor’s Office CARES federal funds, yet, the nurses have received $0. It is interesting to note that nursing organizations across the country have also been “stiffed” and given little more than a “respectful” hearing. The good news is this: We have been at the table and have spoken loudly and clearly about the heroic efforts and needs of nurses during the pandemic and going forward. Our voices have been expressed through more than 5,000 Alabama nurses who signed a petition to validate our requests for CARES Act funding, your President, Dr. Sarah Wilkinson-Buchmann has been quoted in the media, attended meetings with the Governor, wrote letters to all Alabama Congresspersons, and advocated for nurses in the most passionate and dignified manner possible. Your ASNA staff and lobbyists have worked hard along with ASNA Board, district leaders, and members on COVID-19 and other important social/professional issues.

Diversity & Inclusion

Although ASNA’s commitment to high ethical standards of equality and just treatment of all people had been expressed through 2019 resolutions and publicity, 2020 presented a sad but vital opportunity to stand for these principals again. The death of George Floyd rocked the nation with outbursts of anger, demonstrations, and riots regarding the systemic racism that is present in American society. Though many choose to “go low” in their response to this issue, nurses as a profession “go high!” The Nurses’ Code of Ethics espouses that all patients are equally important. Ethically and professionally, nurses don’t see in color, they don’t see rich, poor, or gender preference, they see patients. Yet, as individuals and as the “Most ASNA In Action Alabama Nurses…You’ll Want to Hear This! Trusted Professionals” we have a responsibility and the opportunity to promote these ethical standards throughout our culture. Dr. Ernest Grant, President of ANA, and Dr. Sarah Wilkinson-Buchmann both issued strong statements to that end.

Our ASNA Diversity and Inclusion Committee circulated a survey designed to measure the experiences and perspectives of our members on this vital cultural issue. Regarding the subject of advocating for full practice authority for APRN’s, ASNA continues to lead a group of APRN leaders in developing a strategic strategy and eventual legislation that will bring Alabama to the level of two-thirds of our states who already have those policies in place. This will increase access to primary care in urban and particularly in rural areas of the state as restrictions on APRN’s will open additional doors to serve.

Together We Are Stronger

In summary, ASNA has had a banner year in advocacy despite the hindrances to physical meetings, business, and fellowship. Our membership has increased to its highest level in decades! Nurses have noticed that you (ASNA) has been fighting for them. We have given them a platform for their voices to be heard. As we have all been inspired by their selfless service, they have been inspired by your leadership and advocacy for all nurses. When they see that together we are stronger and that participation in their professional organization has immediate and long-term benefits, they gladly join and add their voices to ASNA. Thank you all for your dedication to promote excellence in nursing. You are succeeding!