MAR Banner Image


Public Policy and Advocacy Report
June 2017

My Steps to Washington by Ferne T. Elsass

The thought of being interested in politics was not something I could have admitted to 5 years ago.  I did not watch the news, and CNN was a channel I would ever think about turning on.  I would vote in the Presidential election, but the rest was not a priority. 

My daughter was born in 2005 and despite a normal birth, an apneic episode left her with a hypoxic brain injury.  Although she has grown up well, she was left with several intellectual deficits. These deficits required physical, occupational, and speech therapy.  Our family struggled with insurance coverage for her therapies.  I was once told that she had not suffered the “right type” of brain injury to receive coverage for her therapies.  With letters and phone calls, we were finally reimbursed for about 80% of the money we spent for care.  I was faced with the fact that she might not be covered over the course of her life.  Pre-existing conditions would haunt her for the rest of her life, and no one seemed to be fighting for a change in this practice. The insurance companies were not going to help, not when there was money to be made.

Three years ago I volunteered to become the public policy representative for the WOCN Hampton Roads affiliate. A year later I fell into the co-chair position for the Mid-Atlantic region.  Little did I know how I would embrace this position and how it would grip me.  I never thought that my past experiences with my own family would light a fire in me to help others who could suffer like we did.  This collision would place me in a position to educate others and advocate for my patients. 

As a pediatric wound and ostomy nurse I see first-hand how healthcare affects patients.  This includes what is covered while a patient is in the hospital as well as what may be denied when they go home.  Children are not overlooked in the harsh world of reimbursement and denial of coverage.  Even with many of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, families still struggle to meet the needs for their children. The growing threat of changes in healthcare signals a possible return to a time when past medical history defines what will and will not be covered. The WOCN society has discuss over the last year competitive bidding for ostomy and urological supplies, which now seems to be over shadowed by the loss of coverage altogether.

What does all this have to do with politics?  Everything.  All of these things are interconnected in what happens at a local, state and national level. As nurses and as certified wound, ostomy and continence nurses we have an exceptional opportunity to help our patients. The men and women we elect into office are making decisions that affect our patients and our own families.

Not everyone wants to immerse themselves in the world of politics, and recently most folks are sick of hearing about. However, now is the time to invest even more.  Even at the simplest level. So how can one get involved even if they really do not want to? It is a lot easier than you think and it can be done on several levels.  All you have to do is start somewhere.

The easiest is watching the news or read the paper.  As a consumer of local information you are able to, at the minimum, know what is going on at home. News channels are the next step, but it is best to watch them all. Do not settle on the one most digestible. In fact it is better if they make you think or question things a bit.  That makes you hungry for more. Practice caution with the internet. I am not going to tell you good information cannot be found there. It can but make sure it is fact versus opinion. Check your sources.  If it seems biased it likely is. Source checking is another way to find out more information that affects you at home.

Another easy way to hear about the issues is to follow the public policy topics that your organization feels are important.  WOCN has hot topics updated as they happen and how they affect our patient populations.  These topics include competitive bidding, CMS changes and Home Health Care Changes. These updates provide ways to get involved, so you can decide if the topic is important enough to act on and whether or not you want to take steps to get involved. These hot topics can be found at along with other ways to build a legislative group at your local level.

The next step is to vote and know your candidates that are running for office.  I attended a recent ANA meeting and one statement that I remember from one of our nursing leaders was “who will carry your water.” I think about that question when I listen to candidates and legislators speak. Do they stand for the things I need and that are important to me? Are they going carry out legislation that is important to my family and my patients? Voting is one time you get to speak for who you want to be in office; someone that represents you. Go to the candidate’s website and see what his or her platform says.   The lowest levels of office are just as important as the office of president.  Many of the decisions that are made on the highest levels are determined by the men and women that represent us at the local level.

This is where it starts to get more difficult and requires more work and diligent attention.  Start talking to your representatives.  Start small and work your way up.  Send them emails, call them. Make an appointment and go to a representative’s local office.  They work for you and it is okay to remind them.  Have your homework done ahead of time. Know the issues that are important you and speak to them. It does not have to take long, and it can be once or as often as possible.  If you have the time and desire, attend town hall meeting and hear first-hand.  Ask them what they stand for, and if it is not what you want.  You have the right and the obligation as a constituent to tell them.

If like me you are already active doing these things, begin to educate your local WOCN affiliates on the important topics and give them ways to get involved.  We are all so busy with our jobs and day to day, providing an easy to complete task can really hit home for members.  The Lymphedema Treatment act ( was begun as a grassroots effort and continues to make headway.  In my local chapter, I write a letter and then pass out the template my other members can use and modify to deliver a personal message. 

In March I had the opportunity to attend The Nursing In Washington Internship (NIWI I was privileged to meet several nursing leaders and several legislators all teaching a room full of vocal nurses how to talk with their legislators.  Some were attending for the first time like me, others had attended several times, and still others were ready to run for office.  It was an invigorating two days and at the end we met with our legislators to discuss our “asks.” The “asks” were our requests to our congressmen and senators.  We went in with specific actions we wanted taken.   Our “asks” were related to nursing scholarship, workforce and education.  I am sure you are wondering who would not support nurses, seems like a given. However, we were asking for more money to be devoted to nursing.  In order to do that it has to be pulled from other places.  I was fortunate.  I was asked to plead my case, and I was assured that my requests were easily supported.  Others were not as lucky, in fact notified that there were other places the money needed to be spent and were hustled out the door. My NIWI experience was a valuable one. I encourage anyone who wants a glimpse into how our government works this is a superb way to start.  I was able to get a hint at how much I have yet to learn about our political system.  I could see how far I had come and could see how big a beast it could be to concur.  The final thing I learned was that nurses are a powerful voice in legislation.   Our representatives may not always agree with our needs, but they are willing to give portions of their time to nurses.  As nurses and as specialty nurses we pack a huge political punch.  We can not only speak about our patients, but when we talked others will listen.  This has much to do with how evidenced based our practice is already.  Nurses know how to come with facts. Nursing is the most trusted profession and this means something when it is time to vote.

The power behind this voice gives nurses an unprecedented opportunity to run for office.  Now certainly it does not have to be big right out of the gate, but find a cause that you think could be managed better and run.  Maybe it is education, run for School Board of you city.  Maybe the environment is something you are better suited for, look for opportunities with local environmental protection. Maybe Mayor is a job you are well suited to do. There are areas that nurses can be utilized to improve at local levels city levels. These offices are not out of your reach and if you are passionate about an issue, do not hesitate to find ways to be vocal.

The final thing is to vote.  However, do not vote with opinion, vote with fact.  Have your beliefs in what government should do and vote for the candidate that provides those things for you and your family need.  Ask your patients and vote for them and there needs.  It is easy to follow party lines, but does that party speak for your needs, do they speak with the voice you want.

My little girl is 12 years old now.  We have come a long way as a family.  I have seen legislation that has help us and hurt us over the last 12 years.  My fight makes me want to it more and motivate others to fight for what they believe. Take whatever steps feels right to you but make sure your government has at least one hand on the handle helping you carry your water.


WOCN® Advocacy and Policy

WOCN"The WOCN Society works diligently to shape legislation that protects and strengthens the profession. The WOCN Society is committed to advancing legislative activity that promotes the benefits of WOC nurse involvement related to pressure ulcers, acute and chronic wounds, ostomy and continence (WOC) care." ~ excerpt from the WOCN® website

Go to the page for more information...

Back To Top of Page