The Crisis and Opportunity We Face

by Jon D. Barganier

Twenty-something years ago, I was asked by legendary and Hall of Fame Public Health nurse, Ruth Harrell, to speak to a leadership group within ASNA about leadership. If
memory serves me correctly, Ruth was the president of ASNA at that time. Prior to that invitation by Ruth to speak, I had told her a story that I had used when I was affiliated with the Alabama State Employees Association that had several leadership principles in it and Ruth liked and decided her leadership team would like it, too. The principles in the story are universal and are applicable to all professions or walks of life for that matter. As I thought about what to write about in this edition of The Alabama Nurse, that story came back to me and I thought you might get something out of it, too.

First, to set up the story, at this writing, we are still knee-deep in the pandemic and this profession is front and center performing heroically and there is still a great deal of uncertainty about what lies ahead whether eventually, vaccines will arrive in a timely manner or whether “herd immunity” will finally control the virus. From a professional nursing standpoint, ASNA Executive Director John Ziegler and the leadership of ASNA are fighting multiple battles – past, present, and future. The past is the past but there is so much to learn from the past. The present is challenging enough but the future requires anticipating changes and preparation.

The Story of Nehemiah

Space doesn’t allow an elaborate retelling of the story I once shared with others but it may be a familiar story to some of you. It’s a Bible story. The story of Nehemiah. Nehemiah was the “cupbearer” to the Babylonian King, but that title doesn’t quite give enough credit to his real job which was that he ran the King’s palace. Nehemiah was Jewish and he served those that had taken him and his people captive in Babylon. Nehemiah became aware that his hometown, Jerusalem, was in ruins with no discernible future so he asked the King to allow him to return to the city so that he might rebuild it, starting with the wall that protected it. You might expect that he was welcomed back as a hero, but he wasn’t. He was supported by some and opposed by others. He had lots of vocal critics who tried to discourage him every step of the way. The opposition’s intimidation even led to Nehemiah and his supporters to carry tools used to rebuild the wall in one hand and weapons to protect themselves in the other. Nehemiah’s leadership prevailed and Jerusalem was restored. That’s the short story.

What does that have to do with the pandemic? Here’s where I see the commonality. Parts of the health care system are being turned upside down during this pandemic. Walls that protected health care providers have come crashing down. The inadequacy of our system has been exposed. Disparities have come to light. Whether the issue has been the provision of protective equipment or the availability of other needed resources, or a hundred other issues, we know that changes need to be made. We are still in the throes of where this will leave us when it has run its course but we are certain that when it does, there will be a job ahead of us to rethink and rebuild our health care system.

Looking Ahead

Leadership will be the key. We will need a Nehemiah that has the foresight to see the need and address it and since people haven’t changed that much since the days of Nehemiah, you can bet that it won’t all be smooth sailing. There will be critics and those that oppose needed changes. I have no doubt that ASNA is the Nehemiah of our current and future challenges and like Nehemiah’s followers, we will be asked to carry our professional tools in one hand and ASNA resources in the other. We have great leaders in this organization today and we will need great ones in the future, too. Like Nehemiah, they will need to be visionary, encouraging, resilient, vigilant, resourceful, and committed. Like Nehemiah, they will need to have a passion for those suffering from hardship. They will have to be willing to work with those who have authority over them but cunning enough to win them to their way of thinking. We are in a crisis but with every crisis comes opportunity.