What Now for California Nursing Organizations?

With conferences and face-to-face networking events on hold, professional groups are redefining their mission

Two nurses in business attire are sitting and smiling in front of a sign for the California ANA Organization

“When we had to cancel Lobby Day, we knew something had changed,” says Marketa Houskova, RN, DNP, MAIA, executive director of the American Nurses Association California (ANA/C). Lobby Day is a big annual event that brings hundreds of nurses to Sacramento each year to meet with elected officials and discuss nursing issues — something that clearly wasn’t going to happen during a pandemic.

Over the past few months, the leaders of many professional nursing groups have had similar moments of revelation. The global pandemic has forced organizations like ANA/C and the Association of California Nurse Leaders (ACNL) to rethink their plans, goals and priorities.

2020, named the Year of the Nurse and Midwife by the World Health Organization, has not turned out to be the year of celebration we had envisioned. Rather, it has been a year of sacrifices and improvisation for nurses.

Houskova and ACNL Interim CEO Donna Kistler, RN, M.S., talked with me about the ways their organizations have adapted to better meet the changing needs of California’s nurses during one of our nation’s most challenging times.

From Challenge Comes Innovation

Within weeks, both organizations went from collaborating in their offices with members and colleagues to working from home and cancelling events they had worked hard to plan.

“For a nonprofit membership organization, these uncertainties can be terrifying,” Marketa reflects. “They also brought innovation, ideas and a new way of doing business.”

It hasn’t been an easy journey thus far, but associations are responding with innovation and creativity to remain a vitally important resource for nurses.

“We Always Knew We Were Capable”

While the coronavirus may have taken away these organizations’ ability to meet in person, it has only underscored the vital importance of collaboration and advocacy.

“Everybody found the time and tried to work together to create policies and guidelines to ensure we are providing the highest quality care and looking after our nurses,” Houskova says. “We always knew we were capable, but when this happened and we had to develop from the ground up, the power was enormous. I’m really proud.”

One recent focus of ANA/C advocacy has been supporting California’s nurse redeployment efforts. In collaboration with coalition partners, ANA/C has responded to Governor Gavin Newsom’s call to action by encouraging nursing students and nurses who have retired or are no longer in clinical practice to help care for their communities by signing up for California Health Corps (covid19.ca.gov/healthcorps).

Hiring Now

ACNL is also focused on collaboration. Kistler says the ACNL Executive Board meets weekly via Zoom to assess the needs of nurse leaders across the state. The work of the committees is especially salient now. For example, the Healthy Work Environment Committee is addressing resiliency in the workforce. The Quality Committee has shared articles and hosted a podcast on living through COVID-19 as nurses. The Philanthropy Committee is researching PPE needs, while an upcoming webinar by the Annual Program Committee will focus on leveraging emotional intelligence during this crisis.

Supporting Nursing Colleges

While most hospitals have faced unprecedented disruption in recent months, the pandemic has presented particular challenges to nursing colleges. Clinical sites for direct patient care, already in short supply for many programs, have gotten scarcer still as patient access is restricted by coronavirus protocols.

“The moment COVID-19 hit hospitals, nursing schools had to adjust their clinical practicum curriculum and within a few short weeks find new ways of delivering education during these difficult circumstances,” says Houskova.

Graduation for nursing students could be delayed, tightening the bottleneck on new graduates entering the workforce.

Recognizing this dilemma, ANA/C called on the Board of Registered Nursing and the California Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) to relax the existing regulatory limits on simulation training.

A clinical hour distribution waiver was put in effect through August 1 to allow nursing students to satisfy their practicum requirement with up to 50 percent non-direct patient care (simulation and skills laboratories) during the pandemic. Extending the temporary waiver to become permanent policy would provide relief to the clinical placement squeeze, without impacting clinical competence.

“Nursing education programs will be looking to ACNL and ANA/C to lead the conversation with healthcare partners on the onboarding of new graduates,” says ANA/C Board Member and West Coast University Dean Robyn Nelson, RN, Ph.D. “How will the hiring and orientation process need to change as a result of COVID-19?  How will the pandemic impact transition into practice? As the commercials say … we are all in this together.”

Nursing Education

A Bouquet of Thanks

Being part of a professional association guarantees you will always have a source of support. No matter where you work or what role you fill, these associations have your back. Nursing groups around the nation have made supporting their membership a top priority during the pandemic.

National organizations such as the American Nurses Association have collaborated with businesses and organizations to provide resources for nurses, from free hotel rooms to self-care packages to webinars on the latest COVID-19 developments.

Caring for nurses’ wellbeing and emotional health is a priority for nursing organizations, especially now. To that end, ACNL partnered with  Sacramento-based Flora Fresh, Inc. to deliver more than 2,000 flower bouquets to hospitals in the Sacramento region. Co-owner Allan Nishita created the campaign, called “Flowers for Our Frontliners,” to recognize those working to keep communities safe during a very difficult time. ACNL worked with Nishita to locate hospitals in the Sacramento area and then coordinate with hospital administrators for delivery and distribution.

Part of the Solution

During the pandemic, as in less chaotic times, nursing organizations not only provide valuable information about the problems and issues facing their members, but also invite nurses to become part of the solution. “The leadership that nurses took upon themselves was absolutely something to celebrate and aspire to,” Houskova says.

The power of professional organizations comes directly from the people who belong to them. Nurses of all educational backgrounds, levels of experience and career aspirations have input into the organizations’ direction and goals. Professional associations recognize that every nurse has the potential to be a leader and every nurse has valuable insights that contribute to advancing the profession.

In the absence of live events, ANA/C has established a virtual “Advocacy Hour,” held every Tuesday via Zoom, to provide their members with an opportunity to actively engage and share hot topics and concerns.

Many Nurses, One Voice

A situation like the COVID-19 crisis exemplifies what Houskova calls the “enormous power, skills and expertise” of nurses coming together, but, as she is quick to point out, that work will not stop when the pandemic resolves.

Our efforts today will only help us be better prepared for the future. Developing these guidelines, safety protocols and redeployment plans only makes us stronger and better prepared for future challenges. Advocacy efforts highlighting critical issues such as adequate supplies of personal protective equipment will pave the way for future change that will impact healthcare for years to come.

While it may be some time before traditional activities like conferences and face-to-face networking events can safely resume, the value of nursing associations has only increased in the present crisis.

As an employee of a state professional nursing association myself, I can personally attest to the power of nurses coming together and advocating for the profession when we need it most. It is remarkable to witness what can be accomplished — even under such strained circumstances — when we all collaborate to reach a common goal.

JESSICA DZUBAK, RN, MSN, is the director of nursing practice for the Ohio Nurses Association. She is also a freelance writer specializing in the healthcare industry.She enjoys her two dogs, who add commentary to her articles by laying their heads across the keyboard while she’s writing.

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