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Nurses focus on pandemic challenges while looking to the future

Author(s): Elizabeth Moore, MFA

The current and ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and systemic racism dominated discussions at the 2020 American Nurses Association (ANA) Membership Assembly, which was held virtually for the first time.

More than 400 representatives from ANA’s constituent and state nurses associations (C/SNAs), the Individual Member Division (IMD), organizational affiliates (OAs), the ANA Board of Directors, and others attended the June 19 governance meeting.

At the Assembly, representatives adopted a resolution on racial justice, heard about COVID-19’s impact on nursing, learned about ANA initiatives, and approved a revision to the ANA dues policy.

President’s address

“2020 has emerged as a year of challenges that would have been hard to imagine in January as we launched a new year, one filled with energy and excitement as we began the much awaited ‘Year of the Nurse and Midwife,’” said ANA President Ernest Grant, PhD, RN, FAAN, as he opened the meeting.

Grant described the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, its stress on nurses and the healthcare system—including shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) and confusing changes in guidance—and the social and economic upheaval caused by shutdowns.

“Nurses have faced these challenges with grit, resilience, and kindness, embracing a common spirit of being in this together,” Grant said.

Another critical issue affecting nurses and the nation in 2020 is systemic racism, brought to the forefront by police brutality that led to the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man.

“Racism is a longstanding public health crisis that impacts mental, spiritual, and physical health,” Grant said. “COVID-19 has exacerbated this crisis and added to the stress in Black and other communities of color, which are experiencing higher rates of infection and deaths.”

Grant called on nurses to use their voices for change. “Our code of ethics obligates us, as nurses, to be allies and to advocate and speak up against racism, discrimination, and injustice,” he said. “This is non-negotiable.”

Additionally, Grant updated the Assembly on ANA’s actions toward strategic priorities he identified for his presidency: to increase the diversity of nursing, increase the relevance of ANA to nurses, increase nurses’ engagement with consumers and, through that, elevate consumers’ understanding of the value of nursing.

Racial justice resolution

Assembly representatives adopted a resolution: “Racial Justice for Communities of Color,” which was proposed by the ANA Board of Directors.

The resolution said, in part, “The ANA 2020 Membership Assembly condemns the brutal death of George Floyd and the many other Black, Indigenous, and People of Color who have been unjustly killed by individuals within law enforcement. Such cruelty and abject racism must not go unchallenged. ANA and nurses everywhere are again called to action. Collectively, we must emerge from silence and speak with one strong voice as leaders and role models of compassion and empathy for our patients, families, communities and most importantly, towards one another. Our voice is our commitment to making a difference in all that we do for those we serve.”

ANA, along with the C/SNAs and the IMD, pledged to oppose and address all forms of racism and discrimination, among other actions.

COVID-19’s impact on nursing

Elaine Scherer, MAEd, BSN, RN, immediate past president of the North Carolina Nurses Association and chair of the ANA Leadership Council Executive Committee, facilitated a discussion about the future of nursing in a post-pandemic world.

Tobi Lyon Moore, MBA, CAE, CFRE, who is CEO of the Iowa Nurses Association, ANA-Michigan, and the Wyoming Nurses Association, spoke about how nursing education will need to adapt.

“We will have to come up with innovative ways to teach nursing outside of a traditional classroom setting,” Moore said, referring to the difficulties of offering clinical space for students while maintaining social distancing. Nursing programs should increase their focus on community health and primary care, she said.

Moore brought up the need for improved disaster preparedness, correct PPE use, and for nursing organizations to engage with members in new, meaningful ways to remain relevant.

Washington State Nurses Association President Lynnette Vehrs, MN, RN, said that both the COVID-19 pandemic and the protests against racial injustice have put a spotlight on health disparities. Science-based, infection prevention practices also should be brought to the forefront.

In addition, nurses should participate in regular media training to increase the presence of nurses in the media as sources for expertise about the pandemic. It will also be important to maintain strengthened relationships with policymakers and other groups of influence.

North Carolina Nurses Association President Dennis Taylor, DNP, ACNP-BC, NEA-BC, noted that COVID-19 is already shifting nursing workforce needs. Nurses require more education and training in emergency and pandemic care, as well as in telehealth, he said. Taylor also noted the importance of funding for school nurses and greater access to healthcare to address disparities. 

Attendees called in and submitted comments on a number of topics, including frustration over changing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and concern about the health of individuals in detention centers, prisons, and jails in the face of the pandemic. Grant said that the ANA Board of Directors would take those comments into consideration.

Changing course

In her report to the Assembly, ANA Enterprise Acting CEO Debbie Hatmaker, PhD, RN, FAAN, reviewed the ANA Enterprise strategic goals and how the enterprise has quickly adapted in the face of COVID-19.

“While 2020 has not been what anyone anticipated, this year is transforming the nursing profession and elevating nurses’ roles in the healthcare team in the eyes of consumers,” Hatmaker said.

The Enterprise launched the online COVID-19 Resource Center in February to offer the latest informational and educational resources, including answers to frequently asked questions, advocacy updates, and stories from nurses on the frontlines of the pandemic. The ANA COVID-19 Webinar Series provides free, on-demand webinars on topics relevant to the pandemic. As of June, more than 138,000 individuals had registered for the webinars.

Together with the C/SNAs, ANA has maintained a strong commitment to advocating on behalf of frontline nurses. Hatmaker highlighted legislative, regulatory, and grassroots campaigns, including one call to action that generated 350,000 letters to Congress calling for improved PPE. After many years of advocacy, nurses celebrated passage of the Home Health Care Planning and Improvement Act and reauthorization of Title VIII Nursing Workforce Development Programs, included in the CARES Act.

In addition to being a resource for nurses, ANA has been an in-demand source for media, Hatmaker said, with close to 150 interview requests that netted more than 400 news articles. These opportunities included live television and radio segments and published op-eds. The Enterprise’s social media platforms have garnered more than 43 million impressions, more than a million engagements, and 44,000 new followers during the COVID-19 crisis.

The American Nurses Foundation’s Coronavirus Response Fund for Nurses has provided support, with more than $2.1 million in direct financial aid through Nurses House, 230,000 free hotel nights for ANA members through the Hilton room night program, a text-to-give campaign, and the financial TaylorMade Driving Relief golf event. The Well-Being Initiative for mental health was launched in partnership with ANA, the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, American Psychiatric Nurses Association, and Emergency Nurses Association.

Hatmaker noted the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s (ANCC) customer-focused response to the pandemic, providing flexibility and solutions when nurses faced challenges in obtaining certification, and providing support for Magnet® hospitals and the accreditation program. In-person conferences were rescheduled, with an ANCC Virtual Summit™ set for Oct. 7-8, 2020, and a combined ANCC Magnet® Conference, Pathway to Excellence® Conference, and ANA Quality and Innovation event planned for May 1-3, 2021, in Atlanta.

ANA’s relevance at the national and state levels during the COVID-19 crisis showed itself in historic membership growth, with over 14,000 new members joining in April through May. 

“It takes an Enterprise to battle a pandemic,” Hatmaker concluded. “It takes all of us, collectively, to do that. Our work continues and we will need to reassess our priorities regularly. While the economic conditions are challenging, we will continue to demonstrate our relevance on behalf of the nurses we serve.”

In remembrance

The Assembly honored fallen nurses with the annual Nightingale Tribute, which includes nurses who have died due to COVID-19, with a reading of the poem “He/She was there” by Duane Jaeger, MSN, RN. Read the tribute here.

Other business

After the meeting, eligible representatives voted remotely to elect leaders to serve on the ANA Board of Directors and Nominations and Elections Committee. They also approved proposed revisions to the ANA dues policy that provide a structured process for increasing membership dues to ensure that revenue from membership keeps up with increases in expenses. The revised policy allows ANA to consider increasing member dues every 5 years, with the first potential increase to occur in 2025. A review mechanism will take place before any dues escalation.

— Elizabeth Moore is a writer at ANA.

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