Nursing & Healthcare News

National Nurse Act of 2019

Legislation reintroduced in the House and Senate with bipartisan support

It’s back: the National Nurse Act, a bill that would create a national nurse for public health, comparable to the U.S. surgeon general.

National Nurse for Public Health

Under current law, the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) already has a chief nurse officer, who advises the Department of Health and Human Services and the surgeon general about USPHS nursing services. Since 2016, that officer has been Rear Adm. Susan Orsega, RN, MSN, FNP-BC, FAANP, FAAN. If enacted, the National Nurse Act of 2019 would give Orsega and her eventual successors new responsibilities and an additional title: national nurse for public health.

As the title suggests, the role would focus on health outreach and education, including promoting evidence-based practice for disease prevention, identifying national health priorities and “encouraging nurses and other health professionals to be volunteers.”

The national nurse for public health would also represent USPHS on various international, state and local committees, including the Global Forum for Government Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officers.

H.R. 1597 and S. 696

The House version of the act, H.R. 1597, was introduced on March 7 by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas-30), a former psychiatric nurse who was the first RN elected to Congress. “This act would empower a medical professional to focus on critical issues, such as promoting healthier practices, improving health literacy and decreasing health disparities,” Johnson says.  Like previous versions of this legislation, H.R. 1597 has widespread support from nurse professional organizations.

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The bill currently has 52 bipartisan cosponsors, including nine California representatives: Tony Cardenas, Jim Costa, John Garamendi, Ro Khanna, Barbara Lee, Doris Matsui, Scott Peters, Lucille Roybal-Allard and Jackie Speier. Four other California representatives — Julia Brownley, Adam Schiff, Mark Takano and Norma Torres — have also announced their support. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) has already introduced a Senate version of the bill, S. 696. At present, its only cosponsor is its coauthor, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.). You can read more about the bills at congress.gov.

Photo above: Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas-30) is a former psychiatric nurse who introduced the National Nurse Bill in the House of Representatives.


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