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What Would Florence Nightingale Do?

Chris Barton, RN

Born in 1820 in England, Florence Nightingale is viewed as the Mother of modern nursing. Throughout her life she practiced as an avid healthcare advocate and social reformer. Until her death at 90 years old in 1910, she never wavered in her belief that high quality patient care was a basic human right.

Since the time of Florence Nightingale the goal of nursing has been to advocate for and to provide a safe and caring environment that promotes patient health and well-being. Is the advocacy that Florence Nightingale practiced as relevant for the 21st century as it was for the 19th century? What would Florence say today in the face of healthcare reform and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act?

The 2010 Affordable Care Act has already improved the health of millions of Americans who had no access to healthcare or were underserved by the system. With continued insurance for dependent children up to age 26, no cost screening and preventative care for seniors, the improved drug coverage for Medicare recipients and the mandate for health insurance companies to spend the premiums on healthcare, not over the top executive salaries and marketing, we have a good start to changing our healthcare system into one that works for us.

Linking quality outcomes to hospital payment is a major initiative of the ACA. Hospitals will receive full Medicare and Medicaid payments only when they can demonstrate good practice. Hospitals will no longer be paid for treating an infection that shouldn’t have happened during your hospitalization. Hospitals will not be paid for patients who are readmitted within 30 days of discharge for the same diagnosis due to poor discharge planning or inadequate outpatient follow-up. Private insurance companies are adopting these criteria also. This initiative will force hospitals to spend more resources on patient care (like nursing staff) than marketing and extravagant facilities.

Among all the other changes that are already in place and still to come, the recent improvements for women’s health is also important to note. I’m sure Florence would be pleased that women now have access to no cost contraception, screening tests such as pap smears and mammograms and prenatal care. She believed in promoting egalitarian human rights and would see the improvements in this area for women particularly significant in healthcare reform.
As a nurse myself for 40 years, I believe Florence would be at the forefront in the fight to promote health care for all and to protect the Affordable Care Act.

Nurses have always had the professional and ethical responsibility to advocate for patient health and safety. We must also use our voices to support the political and public will in this country to improve everyone’s access to quality healthcare.

When I mark my ballot in November for my local, state and national political candidates for office, I’m going to keep in mind Florence’s voice of advocacy. I’m going to make sure that the political leadership in Washington State and in this country not only support the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but also work to continue meaningful healthcare reform. I see that vote as my responsibility as a nurse who advocates for the health and well-being of my patients.

If Florence Nightingale were alive today, she’d be doing the same.

Chris Barton is an RN, Secretary-Treasurer and Director of the Nurse Alliance of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW. SEIU Healthcare 1199NW is a healthcare union that represents 24,000 nurses, hospital and clinic workers, and mental health professionals in Washington State.

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