It was a beautiful day in Topeka - and that's certainly not something that's a guarantee, according to Susan Bumsted, MN, RN, president of the Kansas State Nurses Association (KSNA). As a record 1,020 nurses and nursing students descended upon the state capital for KSNA's 33rd Annual Day at the Legislature Feb. 12, they broached topics important to them and heard about nursing advocacy efforts on the national, state and local levels.
The day kicked off with a welcome from Rep. Jill Quigley, the only nurse in the state legislature. After that, those in attendance learned about how the state legislature works. "Our audience varies from beginning level nursing students to practicing RNs who have been in this business for a long time, so we have to address that," Bumsted said.
Next, the legislative platform was rolled out, and the attendees listened to specific issues that KSNA is working on. American Nurses Association (ANA) President Rebecca Patton, MSN, RN, CNOR, then took the stage as the keynote speaker. Having Patton there was a real treat, Bumsted said. The national president usually stops in every 3 or 4 years at the KSNA Day at the Legislature. Patton primarily focused on the work ANA is doing at the national level, letting attendees know how they affect national policy. "She spent an incredible amount of time talking about the opportunities that now exist to shape healthcare into the future with the new administration," Bumsted explained.
Patton's speech also touched on the economic stimulus package and investment in nursing education. Overall, her message brought home the idea that the nurses and nursing students in Kansas really have the ability to affect the national platform, Bumsted said. "This is a time of high change, and so it's important we recognize that with change comes challenge, but with good engagement of all of the stakeholders, good policy can be born out of that day, and that's what her message was to all of us," Bumsted noted.
To bring issues full circle, Kathy Sexton, the city manager from Derby, KS, spoke about the work she's doing with healthcare policy on the local level. Sexton also works with Visioneering Wichita, a multi-county effort to improve quality of life for people in the region.
Throughout the presentations, attendees skirted out at various times to meet legislators and participate in the legislative process. They attended committee meetings, observed the House and Senate or met with individual legislators. A highlight was Sen. Jim Barnett taking the whole group of students from Emporia State onto the floor of the Senate and introducing them, as well as representatives from 10 other nursing programs, to the legislators.
KSNA focused on many issues at this year's Day at the Legislature. The group focused on advance practice roles within the state for advanced registered nurse practitioners and certified registered nurse anesthetists. "[We were] looking at their scopes of practice and our advocacy work to make sure nurses are being allowed to practice within their educational and experience base, and are not allowing other groups to define nursing practice, but to really allow nursing to define nursing practice, particularly at that advanced level," Bumsted explained.
Attendees also spent time talking about new healthcare reform, including the statewide smoking ban and the graduated seatbelt bill in the state. A grassroots effort was organized after members of the group found out the day before heading to Topeka that there has been an embargo on all of the workers' compensation bills in the state. "We were able to excite the group in terms of challenging that with their legislators, asking for that embargo not to happen, because there are some really critical bills we would like to see movement on this year," Bumsted said.
One of the major issues with workers' compensation is caps were established but not raised for several years. When KSNA found out about the embargo, put together a briefing sheet and instructed attendees on how to talk about the topic. The embargo took the group by surprise. "But we took it as an opportunity," Bumsted explained.
Reflecting on the Successes
One of the biggest successes was the record-breaking attendance. Another was having Patton on hand, and a third was having, out of 42 nursing schools in the state, 24 represented. The Kansas Association of Nursing Students took part in the event, representing its legislative platform and the work being done on the state and national levels. "That was very positive, and that's the first time we've ever done it," Bumsted said.
The group visited an estimated 50 to 60 legislators, although Bumsted didn't have firm numbers because the groups set up their own appointments for the day. Some of the members have never been to Topeka and got the chance to see the legislative process up close for the first time (although they didn't truly get to see the entire capital building, which was unfortunately under construction).
Bumsted, who has attended advocacy events on the national level and has participated in the state Day at the Legislature for 2 decades, hoped the nurses and nursing students on hand will get involved with the advocacy effort. "Most of us are one injustice away from action, and hopefully they heard something that day that allowed them to say, wow, I'd like to be involved with this," Bumsted explained.
Lynn Jusinski is an associate editor with ADVANCE.