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Nurses advocate on Capitol Hill for gun violence study

NJSNA members and 351 nurses from around the country urged elected officials to repeal language blocking the CDC

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Representatives from the New Jersey State Nurses Association and the American Nurses Association recently advocated on Capitol Hill for a gun violence study, safe staffing, workforce development funding and access to care for veterans.

NJSNA members and 351 nurses from around the country urged elected officials to repeal language blocking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from conducting gun violence research, and from looking into appropriate funding to examine the causes and effective prevention strategies for gun violence. The request comes on the heels of a sit-in on the floor of the House by Democratic lawmakers advocating for stricter gun control measures.

Other healthcare groups have similarly advocated for a more robust policy on gun control. The American Medical Association voted at its annual meeting last week to expand its existing policy on gun safety to include support for waiting periods and background checks for all firearm purchasers. The previous policy supported them, but only for purchasers of handguns; the update parallels policies endorsed by other health organizations.

[Also: AMA leaders denounce Florida gun gag law and physician advocates double down on stance]

Earlier at the meeting, the AMA adopted policy calling gun violence in the United States "a public health crisis" requiring a comprehensive public health response and solution. Additionally, the AMA, foreshadowing the effort just undertaken by the NJSNA, resolved to lobby Congress to overturn the 20-year prohibition on the CDC researching gun violence.

"We're on the other side of the gun violence coin," said Dr. Benjamin Evans, president-elect of NJSNA, in a statement. "The side from which we come is the public health issue. In the CDC regulations, there is a prohibition to collect epidemiological data and we are in support of the CDC being able to collect evidence. None of us go in and practice healthcare without supportive evidence."

The NJSNA, like the AMA, contends that gun violence is becoming a public health emergency.

Current NJSNA president Norma Rodgers said in a statement that a CDC study would pinpoint the public health issues arising from gun violence.

"(Gun violence) is not just in the urban cities anymore," Rodgers said. "The suburban cities and the rural areas are being impacted."

[Also: American Medical Association votes to support waiting periods and background checks for gun buys]

A CDC study has also been advocated by the office of Democratic U.S. Representative Cory Booker.

Other legislation the nurses discussed with lawmakers included the Registered Nurse Safe Staffing Act. This bill would require Medicare-participating hospitals to establish registered nurse staffing plans using a committee, which would include a majority of direct care nurses, to ensure patient safety, a reduction of readmissions and improvement of nurse retention.

The group also advocated for the Title VIII Nursing Workforce Development, a set of programs providing a large source of federal funding for nursing education, and offering financial support for nursing education programs, individual students and nurses.

Medicare reform was also on the NJSNA's agenda. Proposed bipartisan legislation would amend the Medicare law to allow advanced practice nurses -- a group that includes nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists and certified nurse midwives -- to sign home health plans of care and certify Medicare patients for the home health benefit.

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Under current Medicare laws, APRNs are prohibited from signing home health plans of care and certifying Medicare patients for the home health benefit, which the group said results in more Medicare dollars being spent due to red tape, as well as delays waiting for a physician. A five-year estimate projects $82.5 million in savings to Medicare, and $252.6 million in savings in 10 years.

Lastly, the organization threw its support behind the Improving Veterans Access to Quality Healthcare Act of 2015; This bill allows APRNs who work in Veterans Health Administration facilities "full practice authority." Full practice authority, in the NJSNA's words, means allowing APRNs "to practice to the full extent of their education, and training and provides a common-sense solution to the challenges associated with ensuring America's veterans have access to high-quality, healthcare services."

Twitter: @JELagasse