Headlines from the Hill

On June 16, 2010, nurses from across the country came to Washington, D.C. to participate in the biennial meeting of the American Nurses Association (ANA) House of Delegates (HOD). While attending the HOD, some delegates participated in ANA’s 2010 Lobby Day, an event coordinated by ANA’s government affairs department that gave nurses the opportunity to meet with their congressional representatives and lobby in support of issues important to nursing.

But what exactly is lobbying? And why is it important to nurses?

Many people view lobbying as a dirty word based on their exposure to it via news reports and other media. But lobbying, in essence, is simply advocating on an issue that is important to you or your profession. While most organizations, including ANA, have professional lobbyists on staff to help with this advocacy, the most powerful lobbying comes directly from the organization’s members themselves. This grass-roots lobbying usually is done by educating members of Congress and their staff on an issue through meetings, phone calls, or emails.

The goal of a lobbying effort usually is to persuade elected officials to support key issues, either with votes on or cosponsorship of specific legislation. In the longer term, strong lobbying outreach also can result in your elected officials recognizing you as a resource, and perhaps even reaching out to you on nursing and healthcare issues at stake in your area. Lobbying also is done on the state level by working with state nurses associations on important issues that affect nursing locally; the process essentially is the same.

ANA’s Lobby Day is a great real-world example of how this all works. Let’s take a look at how this year’s event came together to promote issues of importance to ANA, nurses, and their patients:

Approximately 300 nurses from across the country took part in Lobby Day, which this year also featured a virtual component that allowed 1,200 nurses who couldn’t make it to Washington in person to follow and participate in the action remotely via an ANA interactive website, Facebook, and Twitter. The day began with a break­fast briefing conducted by ANA staff, in which they provided meeting logistics to attendees. A congressional staffer then conducted a “how-to-lobby” keynote presentation so nurses would gain a better understanding of how Congressional offices work and what to expect on a visit to Capitol Hill. ANA staff provided attendees with background information on the four key issues of focus: safe patient handling; safe RN staffing; environmental health and safe chemical policy; and advanced practice registered nurses’ ability to certify home health plans of care. The participants then boarded buses and headed to Capitol Hill.

Over the next 5 hours, participants met with and lobbied their members of Congress on these important issues, while their virtual counterparts did the same from home. Virtual participants sent hundreds of letters to their members of Congress via ANA’s virtual Lobby Day home page, demonstrating that it’s not necessary to travel to Washington to lobby effectively.

The impact of ANA Lobby Day was felt immediately, with a dramatic increase in the number of congressional cosponsors of the legislation promoted by ANA nurse lobbyists. The day also helped forge new connections with members of Congress who previously had not been engaged in nursing issues.

This goes to show how nurses and nurse advocacy can make a difference. By working directly with lawmakers and administration officials, nurses can put a personal face on issues that affect their practice and their patients. Grass-roots lobbying is a powerful tool that reminds those in power that there are real people behind policy questions and legislative proposals, and that they need to pay attention. ANA urges nurses to stay involved and continue to work with ANA, constituent member associations, and other nurses associations to make a difference for nurses and the patients and communities they serve.

Nurses interested in becoming more active in lobbying for nursing issues at any level can go to the ANA government affairs team’s recently launched Take Action page: www.anapoliticalpower.org. This page is a one-stop shop for all the information and resources nurses need to lobby for the critical issues facing the profession.

Jerome Mayer is a senior political action specialist at ANA.

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