It is no accident that this newsletter is called ONS Voice nor that advocacy is one of ONS’s core values. Nurses have been the most trusted profession for more than 22 years, according the Gallup Polls.
The public counts on us to be ethical and honest. Borrowing a phrase from the old E.F. Hutton commercials, “when ONS members speak, people listen.” Every day we advocate on behalf of people with cancer and their families in our workplaces, delivering quality cancer care at the chairside and bedside by offering better symptom management, seeking answers to complex questions about treatment plans and options, and providing care based on the very best evidence. We advocate for our patients and for oncology nurses in our board rooms and at policymaking tables, including those in the U.S. Congress.
In early September 2018, nearly 100 nurses representing approximately 75 chapters from 33 states participated in the third Annual ONS Hill Days in Washington, DC, and completed 141 visits with their representatives and senators. The enthusiasm was contagious as engaged and well-prepared ONS members raised their collective voices about four priority ONS bills:
- Palliative Care and Hospice Education Training Act or PCHETA (H.R. 1676/S. 693)
- Cancer Drug Parity Act (H.R. 1409)
- Cancer Care Planning and Communications Act of 2018 (H.R. 5160)
- Lymphedema Treatment Act (H.R. 930/S. 497)
Most Hill Day participants had little or no experience in this type of advocacy work; however, they were well supported with materials and training from the ONS Center for Advocacy and Health Policy staff and the leadership of veteran members who have participated in prior ONS advocacy events.
Alec Stone, ONS director of public affairs, reminded participants that oncology nurses are not lobbyists. We are, however, trusted healthcare providers with stories of individual patients and families who have been touched by each of these issues.
- Patients who missed the support of palliative care that might have eased their suffering throughout their cancer journey
- Patients who chose to not start or discontinue oral cancer therapy due to concerns about possible financial toxicity
- Patients who were not asked for their input in treatment planning or plans for survivorship care
- Medicare patients whose lymphedema worsened as a result of delayed or ineffective treatment with compression therapy due to health insurance coverage for this durable medical equipment
ONS members shared their stories, and congressional offices listened. Following our visits, more than 19 additional cosponsors were added to our key priority bills. ONS members developed contacts with their federal representatives and their staff that we hope will be just the beginning of many beautiful relationships.
As this important midterm election approaches, my hope is that all ONS members recognize the importance of raising our collective voices as we elect our next leaders at the local, state, and federal level on November 6. In the words of former First Lady Michelle Obama, “It is more important than ever that we show up to vote, not just this year, but every year and in every election. Every voice must be heard, and every vote must be counted.”