Eight years ago, shortly after the inauguration of the newly elected 43rd president of the United States, Minority Nurse published an editorial titled “Welcome to Washington, Mr. Bush.” In this open letter to the new president, we urged him to be a unifying force and work across party lines to find real solutions to the urgent problem of racial and ethnic health disparities in America.
Well, we all know how that turned out.
Four years later, MN tried it again. We published another open letter to the newly re-elected President Bush, suggesting that it was time to stop wasting taxpayer dollars on ideology-based programs like sexual abstinence education and start increasing federal funding for proven minority health improvement programs that actually work.
We all know what happened with that, too. Or rather, what didn’t happen.
But now, things are a little different. Our nation has just elected a president who has not only promised to make the elimination of health disparities a top priority but has already put his money where his eloquent mouth is by sponsoring legislation such as the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, the Communities of Color Teen Pregnancy Act and the Minority Health Improvement and Health Disparity Elimination Act during his brief term in the U.S. Senate. So let’s try it one more time:
Dear President Obama:
Welcome to Washington! Here at MN, our ears are still echoing with your much-needed campaign promise to, as you put it, “tackle disparities in health care.” Unfortunately for your ambitious health reform agenda, you are taking the helm at a time when our nation is in the grip of an extremely serious crisis. (Nurses call it “coding.”) The worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression, a staggering budget deficit, two endless wars and other pressing messes the previous administration has left for you to mop up will demand your urgent attention. Federal money and resources for waging war on unequal health outcomes will be painfully tight.
But despite all this, we hope you will somehow find the means to also work on your promises to, among other things, increase funding for the Indian Health Service, implement a national HIV/AIDS strategy, increase the cultural and linguistic competence of the health care workforce and fund proven evidence-based interventions, such as patient navigators, to reduce chronic disease disparities in communities of color. Please don’t let your empowering campaign mantra of “yes we can” become “no we can’t” or “not now” when it comes to minority health.
Mr. President, you have publicly stated that nurses will have a place at the table as you craft your health reform plan. We hope this place will be right up at the front of the table, and that nurses of color will be fully represented. We urge you to reach out—not just across political aisles but to vital organizations such as the National Coalition of Ethnic Minority Nurse Associations (NCEMNA), as well as the many individual nurse leaders within those associations—distinguished researchers, clinicians, educators and health policy experts—who have clearly demonstrated that nurses, even more so than the medical profession, are leading the way in developing the practical solutions to health inequities this country desperately needs.Because when it comes to helping you achieve your goal of making equal health care opportunity a reality for all Americans, yes nurses can. Signed, sealed and delivered.