Timothy Noah is right. I still may not feel entirely confident that I know how to use the word ironic correctly, but I think this one’s got irony written all over it, probably in the blood of the uninsured. For those of you who don’t know, Massachusetts is the only state in the country with near-universal health coverage, which was achieved by legislation enacted in 2006. The Massachusetts legislation passed under the stewardship of then-governor Republican Mitt Romney. Jump to three years later, when Obama’s pushing health reform on a national level, and one of health reform’s champions, Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy (from… where else? Massachusetts, duh), dies a politically untimely death in August 2009. Now here we are in the new year, and Republican Scott Brown, a Mass. state senator, just won Kennedy’s vacant seat in a special election. Brown is the first Republican to occupy the seat in like a billion years or something. As a state senator, he supported health reform for Massachusetts, but now as a United States senator, he opposes national health reform. The voters of the only state with universal health coverage sent a man who opposes health reform to the Senate. The irony of the circumstances, the irony of the timing, the bizarre message this sends… well, I’m at a loss. I’m sad. The watered-down, public option-free, anti-abortion, pro-insurance company, pro-Big Pharma version of heath care reform that the Dems worked so hard to pass in both the House and the Senate may never reach the president’s desk, thanks to an unfortunate death and a fateful election. Even in its flawed state, I wanted that legislation to pass. I really did. Now it probably won’t, and I just have to be sad.
Yet some things still retain the power to make me glad. Check out this sweet article from Kaiser Health News, authored by Dr. Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the badass Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The article argues that nurses have the clinical expertise, the patient advocacy background, and enough of the public’s trust to reshape health care for the better, but we lack positions of political influence. So, my dear nurse friends, I hope this inspires you to live up to the public’s high opinion of you. I hope this means you’ll think about organizing and bombarding your senators and representatives over the health reform issue. I hope this means you’ll run for city council, apply for Ph.D. programs, join hospital boards, join nursing organizations, go to law school, and first and foremost, take what you’ve learned at the bedside with you. I know many of you will argue against ever leaving the bedside… after all, patient care is why you became nurses in the first place. I’m not saying everyone in our field needs to start climbing the ladder and grubbing for power. But I do think that part of patient care is lifting your gaze from the bedside, looking out the dirty hospital window and seeing inequities that either prevent millions of people from ever reaching a much-needed hospital bed or trap countless others in their hospital beds, unable to shake the chronic diseases of our civilization. So although you are desperately needed at the bedside, and much appreciated by your colleagues and your patients, I do believe that most bedsides at least come equipped with a cheap-looking hospital phone from which you can call your senators and representatives and tell them why the both the bed and the bedside are such difficult places to be these days. Don’t forget to dial 9 first.