WASHAA finds untapped resources in health care advocacy

Nurses requiring state-mandated practice hours and retired medical professionals are valuable for health care advocacy in Washington State.

The urgent need for health care advocates to fill roles as medical translators or insurance navigators in the community is nothing new, but locating these talented health care insiders and incentivizing action became the topic of discussion at the Washington State Health Advocates Associates (WASHAA) 2nd annual meeting on Nov. 14.

“We have incredible resources in our state; how are people to know about them? Usually a person finds out when they are really sick. That’s a bad time to try to figure out the system,” said Robin Shapiro, WASHAA Chair.

The Nurse Navigator Corps

Shapiro explained that new state legislation passed in 2013 requires Registered Nurses (RNs) and Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) to demonstrated continuing competency with at least 531 active practice hours over a three year period in order to renew their licenses.

Active practice could include working in clinical settings, education, home health, case management, and consultation per the Washington State Nursing Commission. WASHAA found a simple model of supply and demand. Nurses would be matched to those in the community who need health care advocacy in a nonprofit model.

Building upon a Volunteer Health Advocate Training program developed for senior communities, WASHAA intends to adjust the curriculum and scale it so that more volunteers, including nurses, can serve in this role.

The Silver Tsunami

Retired health care professionals represent another significant, untapped resource in Washington State, according to Rebecca Crichton, Executive Director at the Northwest Center for Creative Aging.

Crichton noticed in her work in senior communities that many of these former medical professionals were already serving informal navigator roles with family and friends. The VHA curriculum merely gave structure and more formalized training to existing volunteers, capitalizing on Washington State’s “silver tsunami.”

“These doctors, health care administrators, they are retiring but know that they want to keep contributing beyond playing golf and licking envelopes. If they have health care background, this is a natural next step,” said LeighBeth Merrick, Coordinator at the Senior Housing Assistance Group.

VHA has conducted pilot studies mobilizing retired health care workers as community advocates since June 2014. WASHAA will keep elements of VHA core curricula with its own revisions for the 2015 expansion of advocacy work into the registered nurse population .