By Trisha Kendall, MS, RN, CHPN, OCN®, GBCONS Legislative Liaison

Earlier in 2019, more than 40 nurses came together at the Maryland General Assembly’s Senate President’s Conference Center for the Oncology Nurses Night in Annapolis. This was the Greater Baltimore Chapter of ONS’s (GBCONS’s) third advocacy trip to the statehouse, but it was the first statewide ONS event. All four Maryland chapters were active in planning the night, and many new advocates were inspired to speak out.

A nurse herself, state Senator Shirley Nathan-Pulliam (D-44), hosted the night. Despite nearing the end of the state’s legislative session where she was busy in committee voting on dozens of bills that day, she didn’t want to miss meeting all of the new nurse advocates from around the state. She told a powerful story about her journey from a bedside nurse all the way to the statehouse. Later that night, nurses were able to visit the committee chamber and sit in her seat—and I think we saw future legislators in the making find their inspiration.

It was an honor to host Maryland’s First Lady Yumi Hogan. She graciously spent time mingling one on one with the nurses in attendance, taking photos and sharing moments of gratitude with many of the nurses who cared for her husband during his cancer journey. She combined her passion as an artist with her role as a caregiver, developing the YumiCares project. She hopes to bring this art therapy program to hospitals across the state, so that children facing difficult times can experience the healing benefits of creativity.

One legislator from Montgomery County joined the nurses that evening to say thank you. At just 30 years old, Delegate Vaughn Stewart (D-19) may be a young lawyer and legislator, but he’s accomplished so much. Stewart is a two-time cancer survivor, and he hasn’t wasted any of his time. He had salivary gland cancer at age 18, then was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and recently treated. He says his cancer nurses were the people he credits with getting him through it. Believing his cancer is because of environmental exposures in his small town, he is currently working to protect others from harmful chemical exposures.

When hearing that the oncology nurses in his district were coming to Annapolis, Delegate Johnny Mautz (D-37B) made sure to meet them in person. He spoke about the strong voice nurses can have in shaping policy, and he encouraged the nurses to get to know their elected officials personally by sharing their expert knowledge and experiences.

State Senator Mary Washington’s (D-43) mother is a nurse, so when she saw a sign in the hallway of the senate building that oncology nurses were there, she said she had to stop in to meet them. Washington knows firsthand the hard work that nurses do every day while caring for everyone in the community. She encouraged the audience to speak up for what they need as professionals and to make sure that working conditions remain safe to care for those in need.

Working alongside coalitions and other organizations is powerful, especially when serving patients with cancer. Coard Simpler, cancer survivor and advocate for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, encouraged oncology nurses to join other healthcare initiatives across the state. He came to show his support for ONS and its members and to speak about the importance that advocacy plays in the lives of so many patients.

Another notable attendee, Vincent DeMarko with Healthcare for All, came to educate and inspire action on H.B. 768, the Prescription Drug Affordability Board legislation that GBCONS has supported during the 2019 session. The legislation has passed and will go into effect on July 1, 2019. It will allow state and local governments to regulate certain high-cost drugs. The actions taken by this legislation will shape the future of prescription costs for all Marylanders.

Oncology nurses work tirelessly to advocate for patients at the front line of care—for faster treatment, better symptom management, more financial assistance, and more. Our annual advocacy event in Annapolis is one way to take that bedside advocacy to the next level by speaking out for healthcare issues that affect the community. Now, more than 40 oncology nurses have been trained as health policy advocates and are now partnered with all ONS chapters in the state to increase the strength and reach of our voices.

In 2020, our groundwork in advocacy efforts will take the next step. Our statewide coalition of ONS members will partner with other statewide nursing organizations to push for better care for patients and safer working conditions for nurses.